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Wednesday, 12 February 1986
Page: 169

Senator SIBRAA —My question is also directed to the Minister for Finance. Has the Minister seen an article in the Weekend Australian of 9 and 10 November last year in which Katharine West supported the construction of a privately owned and operated railway to Darwin? Would such a railway really be privately owned and operated or do proponents of such a railway actually demand a huge subsidy from the Commonwealth?

Senator WALSH —I have seen that article. Indeed, I have seen a number of articles published in the Australian written by Katharine West over the last six months or so.

Senator Grimes —They are all the same.

Senator WALSH —I was about to say that, Senator Grimes. It is not really a number of articles so much as the same article over and over again which repeats the theme that Australia was built by rugged individualists, entrepreneurs and fearlessly independent people and that the Government of today and governments in the past have stifled this rugged individualism and have destroyed the people who have made this country great-who made this country what it is, I think is the phrase that she uses. In so doing she has displayed a profound ignorance of Australian economic history: From the days of the arrival of the rum corps in 1792 when the officers received land grants from the government and labour in chains from the government, and sold their produce to the government store, through the log rolling railway builders of the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s, the irrigation cargo cultists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the feather-bedded manufacturers of the 1920s and beyond in particular.

Most of these rugged, fearless entrepreneurs have been dependent on some form of government protection or handout and have come to demand it as a right. Indeed, as Ted Seiper observed in a work published a couple of years ago, Australia from the very beginning has been a producers' society and the duty of government, as perceived by producers, was to provide a captive market for anything that anybody wanted to produce. However, even given that record, I was astounded to find someone with the demonstrable and profound ignorance of Katharine West writing, and I quote:

The most productive new piece of northern infrastructure might turn out to be a well integrated, privately owned and privately operated--

Senator Archer —I raise a point of order. The question, to me, seemed to be something about railways. We have not heard one word about railways or trains or anything at all. I think that the Minister should come back to the field.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.

Senator WALSH —I will take up from where I left:

set of port and rail facilities to enable Darwin to be used as a major entry and exit point for goods to be efficiently transported to and from the rest of Australia.

In other words, she is supporting the construction of an alleged private railway and, of course, the proposal is that there be an enormous Commonwealth Government taxpayer capital subsidy up front for it. She is suggesting that, if such a railway were built, cargo from overseas would be unloaded at the port of Darwin and then sent down the railway initially to Adelaide, then across to Sydney, Melbourne and other places like that. Supporting that and saying that that is a viable proposition is to break new ground, even for a self-opinionated mediocrity like West. However, what concerns me is not that this guru of the ratbag right is published regularly in the organ of the ratbag right, but that she holds an academic post at Melbourne University. I find it alarming, to say the least, that the sort of intellectual sloth and drivel that she churns out with such regularity in the Australian is being inflicted on impressionable students at one of the nation's most prestigious seats of learning.