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Friday, 22 May 1970

Mr JACOBI (Hawker) - I rise, like my colleagues on this side of the House, to support the Bill and clearly indicate that it is our belief that rail gauge standardisation ought to have top priority as it affects commerce and defence. I hasten to point out that I cannot commend the Government on this measure, for reasons which I will point out later. In all conscience I cannot support the ineptitude and procrastination which has been characteristic of this Government over the last 20 years. This is another glaring instance of where honourable members have not received all the necessary details and information to enable them to make a balanced evaluation of the Bill. All we received was the Bill and the Minister's second reading speech. My colleague, the honourable member (Mr Charles Jones), was fortunate enough to receive a copy of the report submitted to the Minister. Niether the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) nor I have had an opportunity to look at the report to assess the costs involved.

This piece of legislation flows from the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) last year, not without, I would indicate clearly, continual and persistent prodding by the members of the Australian Labor Party both in this Parliament and in the South Australian Parliament. Despite the announcement by the Prime Minister in early October 1969, it was widely known throughout South Australia that this project for the rail link between Port Augusta and Whyalla in fact was finalised and was ready for construction and the legislation could have been presented to this House in late February or early March of 1969 with complementary legislation initiated and passed through the Parliament of South Australia. However, it is a fair assumption that the announcement of this piece of legislation was deferred obviously for a political reason. It was a political plum and was utilised throughout the seat of Grey at the last Federal elections.

The effects of the Bill are set out concisely in the second reading speech delivered by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair). In 1964, Sir Thomas Playford implored the Federal Government to get on with the construction of the railway. But here I would hasten to point out that what the Premier of South Australia in 1964 was referring to - this has been taken out of its context - was not the question of the Port Augusta-Whyalla rail link. He was pressing the Federal Government to adhere to and to honour the agreement made in 1949 by the Chifley Labor Government regarding the conversion of the whole of the broad gauge line between Adelaide and Port Pirie to the standard gauge to link Adelaide with the Trans-continental or standard gauge system. Further, Sir Thomas Playford was pressing for the construction of a standard gauge railway line to replace the present narrow gauge link between Alice Springs and the lower half of the Northern Territory with South Australia. That is what the then Premier of South Australia was pressing for. Governments of South Australia, irrespective of their political colour, have pressed for these things since 1949. Never mind saying that these things have been pressed for since 1964.

The project that is proposed in this Bill now before the House was considered by the Federal Government in 1964 to be uneconomic. But it was not uneconomic in the minds of the people who had to commute, in effect, between Port August and Whyalla. It was uneconomic only because it was not economically viable so far as the Broken Pty Co. Ltd was concerned. This is the one project in the town of Whyalla which has determined the necessity to get on with this link. The Government has looked at this matter on the question of priority insofar as the interests of BHP are concerned. The Government has totally disregarded since 1964 the question of how the construction of this link would affect people either in Port Pirie or in Whyalla.

The Bill provides that the link will be a single line with a length of some 47 miles and will include the necessary siding and a new station to be built at Whyalla. As the honourable member for Newcastle said - and this is contained in the second reading speech - provision is made for 1 freight train service per day each way. Similarly, 1 service per day each way will be provided for passengers. This l;ne will afford a very valuable commercial link between Port Augusta and Whyalla. The current population of Port Augusta is 15,000. In the case of Whyalla, the population is approximately 30,000 and is increasing rapidly.

This link will have, commercially and otherwise, far wider ramifications and benefits than those that are envisaged in the Bill. As I understand it, a decision was made by BHP to transport its steel products by road to Port Augusta and then by rail to the eastern States and Western Australia. That was the policy announced by BHP some time ago. This link will change that situation. I am reliably informed that over 2,000 tons of steel products are moved each week from Whyalla to Port Augusta and that the amount is on the increase. As a consequence of the completion of the link, it will be possible to transport such steel by rail direct from Whyalla without transhipment en route and, as indicated, it is rather obvious that steel will be able to be transported, as a result of this link, to any part of Australia within 35 hours to 40 hours.

According to the Minister, the estimated cost of the proposed link is some $7m exclusive of the additional cost of rolling stock. I might point out that one of the very issues upon which the people of South Australia, among a whole crop of others, expressed their gross dissatisfaction was the allocation of Commonwealth public works spending last year in South Australia and works in connection with loans made to the State Government. South Australia, if my memory :s correct, was allocated $ 10.38m as compared with m allocation to Tasmania of $48m.

The allocation to South Australia was, in effect, some $660,000 less than the allocation for the preceding year. Further, South Australia received the lowest amount of all in the allocation of Federal public works spending over the past 2 years. I might po:nt out, whilst it is not relevant to this Bill nor to the debate, but it is apposite to what I previously stated, that that an obvious fact which the people of South Australia will not overlook is that South Australia again has lost a major public works project to which the Commonwealth Government would have contributed funds. I refer of course to the abandonment of the Chowilla project which, if continued, would have seen the injection into the economy of South Australia of an estimated $65m.

Mr Sinclair - What about the railway standardisation project from Broken Hill? That took a lot of money. It represented a significant contribution to the economy of South Australia.

Mr JACOBI - Does the Minister wish to make a speech?

Mr Sinclair - I thought that it might be appropriate if the honourable member talks about this subject. We are talking about railways, not the Chowilla and Dartmouth projects.

Mr JACOBI - It is a pity that the Government did not talk about it. Its people in South Australia would not have lost 8 out of 12 seats at the last election. Frankly, the allocation of a paltry $7m in no way would make a valuable economic contribution to South Australia.

Mr Sinclair - That is not the purpose for which railways are built.

Mr JACOBI - No. But railways are built for the welfare, progress and development of a State and its people. This the Commonwealth has failed to do for the last 20 years -

Mr Sinclair - We did give assistance while Dunstan was in power but he did not know what to do with it.

Mr JACOBI - As the honourable gentleman is interjecting, I might indicate that there was no lethargic attitude by either the Labor Government or the Liberal Government in South Australia on this question. The ineptitude clearly has been on the part of the Federal Liberal Government -

Mr Sinclair - The Liberal Government of South Australia has done an admirable job; I quite agree.

Mr JACOBI - He is obviously a member of your Party, Mr Deputy Speaker. How long will he keep on with this?

Mr Sinclair - As long as the honourable member likes to reply.

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