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Thursday, 14 November 1985
Page: 2176

Senator VIGOR(3.25) —The Australian National Railways Commission report on accident statistics for the period 1 January 1984 to 30 June 1985 arises out of section 69 of the Australian National Railways Commission Act, which requires:

. . . as soon as practicable after the expiration of the period of 6 months ending on 30 January, and of the period of 6 months ending on 31 December, in each year, that the Commission furnish to the Minister a report, in writing, with respect to accidents that have occurred, during the period, on railways operated by it.

The Minister for Transport then has the option under section 70 to establish an independent board of inquiry on any of the reported accidents. This is what occurred in the case of one fatality on 11 September 1984, when an employee of the railways was struck by a passenger train travelling between Two Wells and Bolivar, north of Adelaide. The fettler was killed because the approaching rail car was not warned of the gangs present on the track, there being no flagman or gang warning boards out. During the coronial inquiry evidence was presented that the gang did not have the boards as they were in short supply, having been on order for approximately 6 months. I believe that this was quite unforgivable in an organisation running our national railways. Other evidence was presented to the inquiry that in February this year a train driver had stated that in recent months, prior to the inquest, he had seen gangs working without warning boards. He referred in particular to a case in point which occurred on the run to Mount Gambier only a week before the inquest.

We are talking about death. The railways have cut down on staffing. They have cut down on the number of guards and stewards on trains. That has led to a decrease in safety. In fact, a number of people have fallen off trains such as the Indian-Pacific on the South Australia to Western Australia run. I believe that it is extremely important that staffing levels be maintained and that those levels should be examined by the railways. There is no justifiable cost saving when we are dealing with people's lives. It is very important that we should have proper crewing of trains and that proper equipment be given to crews working on the lines. I recommend to the Government that it should investigate these matters further and make certain that the railways fulfil their responsibility to their employees in regard to safety, and their responsibilities to the people they carry by providing the right level of staffing on trains carrying passengers so that passengers cannot just open doors, as happened on the Indian Pacific express, and walk out into space. It would not be very comfortable for Senator Collard, who is laughing, if it happened to him. In many cases people have been found beside the line dead or dying. I believe that this is quite unacceptable in a civilised country where it is quite possible for the railways to provide the right facilities, even locking doors, to achieve this end.

Question resolved in the affirmative.