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Thursday, 5 December 1985
Page: 3100

Senator VIGOR(11.20) —I rise to canvass several problems concerning Australian National and the country railway services of South Australia. I want to talk especially about the future of the vital country services within my home State. I also want to talk about those services currently under threat from Australian National's myopic policy of concentrating almost solely on the long haul bulk freight market. I believe that this is almost Lord Beeching revisited, and it is a very short-sighted policy. It is very important for South Australia to maintain its country freight and passenger services, not only in wagon load traffic but also in LCL traffic-less than car load traffic-which must be further fostered and promoted if the railways are to operate effectively.

Rail is a competitive force in country transport, and closures have added and will continue to add significantly to the transport costs of country people. For example, the railway unions have calculated that when the Balhannah to Mount Pleasant line through the Adelaide Hills was closed, freight costs in that area increased by 250 per cent.

Rail is a good form of transport. It creates less damage to the environment than does road transport, and it is considerably more energy efficient. Heavy road transport will travel over country roads a lot more often if we happen to close country lines, and this would be to the enormous detriment of the roads which are not particularly well designed to carry this very heavy traffic. The increasing wear and tear on the country roads, which are already in quite a poor state, is a real liability to country and rural councils. Any pronounced increase in heavy road traffic would require a massive injection of funds from the Federal Government, which currently it does not appear to be willing to give. The situation would be even worse if Australian National were to continue to close grain lines, particulary those rail lines which serve co-operative bulk handling silos.

Recently, one of my constituents drew my attention to the fact that Australian National was running down services on one such line-the Monarto to Cambrai line-perhaps in an attempt to close it. Farmers served by the silos at Cambrai and Apamurra still believe that the line will be closed and that road transport will be used by Australian National to fulfil its obligations to co-operative bulk handling. The line between Monarto and Cambrai was temporarily closed this year because of safety problems with one of the bridges and also the poor standard of sleepers. During this time road transport was used to clear the silos. Road transport took approximately 5,000 tonnes of grain from Cambrai and Apamurra to local mills and to Port Adelaide. This had a considerable effect on the roads. The trucks which travelled through the winding hill roads have had an enormous effect on them, and the road from Mannum has deteriorated considerably. It is riddled with potholes along its sides. The road between Apamurra and the main Mannum road, where the semi-traliers turn on to the main road, was completely torn up. It is now in an appalling state, and the Mannum District Council will have to repair it at great cost. On this occasion, Australian National seems to have seen some sense and it has started to upgrade the line so that trains are now being safely run on it for those people who are going to the grain silos.

During the harvest season two trains of 15 cars long depart from Apamurra filled with grain. The situation is similar on the Tailem Bend to Peebinga line; it is also being run down. During last year's harvest three trains a week were running on this line. Catastrophic damage to local roads will result from the line being closed down. Country rail freight can and must be retained in South Australia. There is a strong economic need for this, if one looks beyond a narrow cost analysis accounting which the railway is following and using.

It must also retain country rail passenger services. Rail can be made profitable through imaginative and enthusiastic promotion. Australian National's interest in any passenger service can only be described at best as lack-lustre and unenthusiastic and at worst as just plain destructive.

The situation in New South Wales, however, is very different. In that State television advertising aggressively promotes the country services. The standard of services has improved and through better catering and staff training, according to the New South Wales State Rail Authority annual report of 1984-85, it has had major increases in passenger use of the service. In the Australian National Railways Commission annual report of 1984-85, AN announced that it has started promoting interstate passenger travel by improving interstate on-train services. I believe this is a very good thing. It has announced also plans to improve passenger facilities on the famous Indian Pacific and Trans-Australia trains and to promote these services extensively through television advertising.

However, unlike these interstate services, country passenger rail services have not been properly promoted. In fact, they have sometimes received very bad publicity. No wonder the number of passengers has declined. After AN announced that it was closing the Peterborough service, there was a 49.5 per cent reduction in the number of passengers on that service. A typical example of AN's attitude to a country rail passenger service is the case of the Victor Harbor line. I will come to that in a moment.

I first want to express concern about what is happening to the Mount Gambier service. A survey was taken in Mount Gambier to determine how many people wanted to retain the service. AN then changed the time-table to make the departure and arrival times more inconvenient. Numerous rumours were started about the service closing and it seems that AN may be moving towards that end. The pattern, unfortunately, is very much the same as what happened on the Victor Harbor line. In January 1984 Australian National announced that it would improve the Victor Harbor rail service. Following this, criticisms were made that the time-table was appalling and the services were almost useless to local tourism. The Friday service left Adelaide railway station at 6.41 a.m. and returned to Adelaide as soon as it arrived at Victor Harbor. The second Friday service left Adelaide at 5.45 p.m., arriving at Victor Harbor at 8.45 p.m. It then left Victor Harbor at 9.10 p.m., arriving back in Adelaide just after midnight when all public transport had stopped. As is widely known, Australian National announced its decision--

Senator Bolkus —I wish your mother had bought you a model train.

Senator VIGOR —If Senator Bolkus does not think that rail services are important--

Senator Gareth Evans —No, none of us does. Shut up!

Senator VIGOR —I think Senator Evans is showing the Government's attitude towards rail. No wonder Australian National has problems.

Senator Bolkus —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. It is quite apparent that Senator Evans does not think Senator Vigor is important; he thinks that train services are.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! That is not a point of order. I call Senator Vigor.

Senator VIGOR —I consider this matter to be extremely important to my constituents. Promises were made by the Whitlam Labor Government, when it bought the rail system from the South Australian Dunstan Labor Government, that country rail lines would not be closed down, but in fact a large number of them have been. If this Government has the same attitude, we have real problems. In fact, Australian National announced its decision to close the service to Victor Harbor on 30 April 1984, four months after the supposed improvement to the service was meant to start. On appeal, the arbitrator found in favour of Australian National but was very critical of its behaviour. Page 6 of Mr Pascoe's determination reads:

In several of the written and oral submissions the view was expressed that patronage could have been improved if AN had given more attention to publicity and promotion. There seems little doubt that the promotion of the Victor Harbor Rail Service has received only intermittent attention from management. It is my view that at present fare levels annual patronage might be increased by better promotion.

Thankfully, there are people in our community with more flair and imagination than Australian National. They have demonstrated the potential of the Victor Harbor line with the success of 12 Steamranger tours during August, September and October 1984. During this period 9,000 passengers were carried and 4,500 passengers were turned away. Following considerable pressure, the State Government has supported the tourist line proposal. In October the South Australian Government approved the use of the line as a tourist line. The Australian Democrats supported this political action. Steamranger Tours will now run 62 return trips a year. The South Australian Government will fund the upgrading and restoration of the track.

I congratulate the South Australian Government and the Federal Government for reaching this decision to return to South Australia its most scenic railway line and for making this railway line available for the enjoyment of the people of South Australia and its valued tourist industry. The service is scheduled to commence in May next year, following the handing back of the railway line to South Australia last Tuesday. Rail travel can survive, can compete and can flourish if we are committed, aggressive and imaginative in our marketing of the service.

I strongly believe that it is important that the Government reconsider its position on the Darwin to Alice Springs railway line in exactly the same light. I am disappointed that the Hawke Government so quickly abandoned all thought of bringing together northern Australia with the rest of Australia once Mr John Reeves was rejected by the voters of the Northern Territory. Darwin is the nearest port to our Asian trading partners. With the current deficit and trading problems, it would be very useful for us to have this type of service in that area. With the right sort of enterprise we could forge major new markets and I believe that it is extremely important that the Government consider this matter as soon as possible for the sake of people in my State, for the sake of defence and also--

Senator Gareth Evans —Who do you think is going to take any notice of this? Who do you think is ever going to read what you are rabbiting on about tonight at half past eleven? Why do you bother?

Senator VIGOR —Because it is an important matter for my constituents. I would like to finish off by saying that if we look after our trunk rail lines, improve our feeder lines and the interchange between road and rail, we can get an imaginative transport system within Australia. I thank the Minister for his patience!