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Thursday, 27 May 1915

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) .- I desire to point out to the Minister that the late Government entered into an agreement with the States in regard to the unification of railway gauges - an agreement under which the Inter-State Commission was to discharge certain functions. At the time of which I am speaking it was impracticable to ask that body to immediately tackle the problem of the unification of our gauges, seeing that it was then dealing with the Tariff.

Mr Tudor - It is doing so yet.

Mr KELLY - But I take it that it is now nearing the conclusion of its labours, and I would suggest that the Government should carry out the agreement into which we entered with the different .States. That agreement was to the effect that the Commonwealth and the States should make contributions to a common fund so as to enable this question to be properly handled. Payments into that fund were to be made, not according to the cost of unifying the gauge in each State, but according to the advantage which each State and the Commonwealth would derive from this common work. It was the introduction of this new principle which secured the unanimous approval of the States to the proposed unification of our railway gauges. It practically destroyed the possibility of any serious quarrel in connexion with the actual gauge to be adopted. Honorable members will realize that the battle of the gauge has been largely fought with minds subconsciously fixed upon the question of how much each. 'State would be required to pay for the alteration of the gauge within its own borders. The Commonwealth Government pointed out that every State would benefit from the adoption of a uniform gauge by the common handling of the rolling stock, and by the interchange which would result in stock and other commodities. With the exception of Tasmania, every State in the Commonwealth will benefit by the unification of gauges. Take, for instance, the position of New South Wales. If the gauge were to remain at 4 ft. in., as I believe it will, because the balance of advantage, considering cost as an advantage, is so infinitely in favour of that gauge, then New South Wales would be a heavy gainer. And yet if Queensland and Victoria converted to the same gauge before this Conference was held it would have had to pay nothing towards the cost of unification. Across the northern borders of that State very often the seasons are such that there is plenty of grass, while there is stock wanting grass on the southern side of the border, and vice versa. Stock-owners in these northern districts of New South Wales would thus benefit enormously by being able to transfer their stock readily and easily into the adjoining State. In the same way, the people of Riverina would benefit enormously by the unifica tion of gauges. New South Wales would thus be a direct gainer as the result of the unification of gauge to which it had contributed nothing. Consequently, it did not seem to the Government at the time a rational proposal that the cost of unifying the gauges should be on a basis other than that -of payment for benefits received. To assess those benefits we had to secure the services of some body which would command common confidence throughout Australia. The body that recommended itself to this Premiers' Conference was the Inter-State Commission, and for. that reason it was appointed, under the agreement, to go into the question of the advantage which each State would derive from the unification of gauges, and funds would then be automatically paid in by the various interested bodies. In addition to that, at the instance of Victoria and South Australia, the Inter-State Commission was to give a final verdict on the question of what gauge should be adopted.

My honorable friends opposite have had recourse to a hard-and-fast method of settling the question of which gauge should be selected. We have started to build a transcontinental railway, and we have other railways, described as strategic, also projected by the Commonwealth. My honorable friends opposite, in a somewhat high-handed manner, have said that the Commonwealth is going to construct these railways on a 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge. The inference is that this is to be used as a lever to compel all the railway services of Australia to come down to our basis. I do not believe the reform can be brought about in that way. I have never had any hope of the kind. The building of lines on. conflicting gauges in the various States is only adding to the difficulty. On the other hand, if we carry out the agreement to which I have referred, then, whatever the gauge adopted - and I am certain it will be the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge-t-it will be adopted by the States for their own advantage as well as by the Commonwealth for its advantage. The result will be the consummation of this great work.

There is a strong call for urgency in this matter. Do honorable members recognise, that owing to the immense number of new lines that are being put down on varying gauges in the different States, the cost of unification is growing, according to a departmental estimate, at the rate of £1,000,000 a year? Do they realize that every year we put off this work it is going to cost an additional £1,000,000?

A uniform gauge is absolutely essential for the true trade unification of Australia and for the true pastoral and agricultural development of this continent. It is also essential for the economic running of these railways. We have in every State to-day to keep rolling-stock sufficient to meet the maximum seasonal influences. Our seasonal influences are threefold. We have the monsoonal influence in the north, the anti-cyclonic on the eastern seaboard, and the Antarctic on the south. Each of these seasonal influences, when felt to the extreme, detracts from the benefit that we gain from the other seasonal influences, with the result that we never have the maximum seasonal activity at the same time all over the continent. When we have a drought in Victoria, as we have had recently, we have a good season on the seaboard of New South Wales, as we have just had purely on the seaboard of that State. Where we get splendid seasons in Victoria we have not, necessarily, a complete failure, but a corresponding weakening of the effect of the other two seasonal influences which benefit stock, and agricultural and pastoral production in the other parts of the Commonwealth. This means that, owing to the artificial boundaries on our railway system, due to the break of gauge, we have to keep in every State enough rollingstock to enable us to handle the maximum seasonal output which the best of -seasons can possibly give us.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Tremendous losses have been suffered this year owing to the want of sufficient rolling-stock to shift live stock.

Mr KELLY - Quite so. The ideal is to have sufficient rolling-stock to enable the maximum seasonal output to be handled; but in practice that cannot be. The result is that, not being able to draw upon the adjoining States, we lose immense numbers of stock through our inability to shift them, and also suffer many other disabilities that I need not enumerate. Break down these artificial boundaries, and you have an immense economy in rolling-stock throughout Australia. To get the same results that you get to-day in any one State, you can -carry probably about one- fourth less rolling-stock in the eastern States by using, as every railway system in the world does, the rolling-stock of an adjoining system at any time when additional rolling-stock is required in any particular section. This is absolutely essential to the benefit of the States, and provided that we set about the work in an ordinary, tactful, and diplomatic way, the change can be brought about. Assuming that we have a common fund, and will pay into it- ourselves, while we ask the States to contribute to it in proportion to the benefits they derive, as determined by the Commission, in whom they have confidence, a uniform gauge is so clearly an advantage to all the States that every one of them will be anxious at once to come into line, and to push the reform through. If, on the other hand, we build this or that railway, no good is done. We have entered upon the construction of a railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta on a 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge. When I was a Minister the South Australian Government started to link up Port Augusta by direct route with Adelaide. Up to that period Port Augusta was linked up with Adelaide, and will continue to be until this line is constructed, by two separate gauges - a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge for part of the way, and a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge for the balance. ' Now, we set about the construction of our line or a 4-ft. 8-1-in. gauge, as much as to say to the States, " This is the Commonwealth gauge, and you will have to conform to it." What resulted? South Australia started to build a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge line from Port Augusta to Adelaide. And with what result to our transcontinental railway? We shall have a break of gauge, a turning out of passengers and a shifting of luggage, with consequent delay at Port Augusta, and something still more serious, since it will mean an added difficulty to a service which will pay only if we can make it thoroughly up to date, first-class, and absolutely express. I personally made a strong protest, and the Government of which I was a member held the strongest views about the matter. But what power have we? We have no practicable power. If, however, we can unify the gauges on the basis of the agreement, we can get over the whole difficulty in a moment. Why not do it? Why not let the Inter-State Commission take up the agreement where we put it down, and carry out work on the basis arrived at by that Premiers' Conference?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) - They would be better employed doing that than they are at present.

Mr KELLY - I have nothing to say on that matter ; but I would point out to honorable members that the Premiers, whether Labour or Liberal, had the utmost confidence in the Commission. Mr. Holman represented New South Wales, and he, at least, enjoys as much the confidence of the Labour movement as does my distinguished friend. There were, I think, three Labour Premiers at that Conference.

Mr Fenton - What Conference?

Mr KELLY - I cannot remember the exact date, but I think it was held in February or March, 1914.

Mr Fenton - Two more Labour Premiers have come into power since then.

Mr KELLY - I think there were three Labour Premiers at that Conference, and they were all satisfied that the Inter-State Commission could properly handle this important subject, because they were all prepared to leave it to that body. If, as I have shown, there was then, and I believe there is now, complete confidence in the Inter-State Commission, why should not this question be referred to them at once? Every year's delay means the addition of a million to the cost of this work, which must be carried out sooner or later. Not only is it essential, but it is the" sort of undertaking that might well be put in hand during this wai period, when we should be thinking about finding work for our unemployed.

Mr Joseph Cook - The whole of the States agreed to be bound by the decision of the Commission.

Mr Tudor - Did they undertake to agree .to any decision that might be arrived at?

Mr KELLY - Yes.

Mr Tudor - I do not think so.

Mr Joseph Cook - There is no better body to whom the question could be referred.

Mr KELLY - The only serious difference of opinion was with regard to the gauges, and on this subject the Premiers agreed to be bound by the decision of the Inter-State Commission. The representatives of Victoria raised this question, and when I asked them if they would be bound by the recommendation of the InterState Commission, they said "Yes."

That was the only side of this question that was seriously canvassed at that Conference.

Now, I maintain that it is our business, as the representatives of the people of Australia, to keep constantly before the public of Australia the common value of this unification scheme. State representatives occasionally try to make the public believe that unification is only necessary for defence purposes, but no greater nonsense could ever be conceived. This scheme, if carried out, would be of greater value agriculturally and pastor - ally than ever it would be for defence purposes, and the sooner the public recognise this the sooner we will see the scheme consummated. When we have to our hand this ready means of arriving at a satisfactory solution of the gauges problem, I would urge upon the Minister that this Government should at once give earnest consideration to the question of going straight ahead with the agreement as if nothing had since been said by one or two Premiers, who may have done a bit of back-sliding when they got away from the influence of the Conference.

Mr Tudor - There have been three or four new Premiers since that Conference was held.

Mr KELLY - I presume, however, that the new Premiers are not less Australian in their attitude than were those who attended the Conference. ,

Mr Tudor - They might raise the point that they are not bound by an agreement made by their predecessors.

Mr KELLY - They can be given the opportunity of accepting the agreement made by the Conference.

Mr Burchell - How do you propose to finance the work in connexion with the unification of the gauges?

Mr KELLY - That could be apportioned according to the benefit which each State would derive from the undertaking. The difference between the scheme I am advocating and the previous scheme is that, under the latter, every State was expected to contribute its own portion of the cost, as if each State would benefit to only an extent corresponding to the works within its borders. I have pointed out, however, that every State, except Tasmania, whether it pays for the conversion within its borders or not, is going to be immensely benefited by the scheme.

KewSouth Wales, for instance, will experience a great benefit by the adoption of the 4-ft. S½-in. gauge in Queensland and Victoria, and that State ought to contribute to its cost. I am a -New South Wales representative, but I advocated this policy at the elections in 1913.

Mr Fenton - And yet New South Wales is allowing Victoria to construct 5-ft. 3-in. gauge railways through her territory in three or four places.

Mr KELLY - That is what we want to stop. In this unification of the gauges each State and the Commonwealth ought to pay proportionately to the value received. Steps should be taken at once to have an actuarial investigation made of the benefits which will accrue to the Commonwealth, and to each of the States, and then if all the parties agree to pay amounts thus ascertained into a common fund, there should be no difficulty in the carrying out of the agreement arrived at by the Conference.

Mr Burchell - Was that the view put before the Premiers, and was it accepted by them?

Mr KELLY - I think it was, but I am speaking without documentary evidence which I would have had before me had I known that this matter was coming on to-night. I remember I went into the Conference perfectly clear as to what was in my mind. I spoke in that Conference exactly as I am speaking to-night, and I did not hear any dissentient voice on this particular aspect of the question of the gauges. We have to remember that every State in Australia except Tasmania will reap a great benefit, agriculturally and pastorally, by the unification of the railway gauges.

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