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Wednesday, 26 October 1949

Mr THOMPSON (Hindmarsh) . - I am sure that honorable members who represent South Australian constituencies are very pleased indeed that the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) and the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, have been able to reach an agreement to undertake the standardization of railway gauges in South Australia. This bill is the outcome of that agreement. Those who are concerned about the adequate defence and future progress of this country must feel gratified that it has been possible to accomplish such an agreement. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) has said that he hopes that this work will be proceeded with and that the bill has been introduced not merely in the hope that the people will believe that the work has already been commenced. The honorable gentleman has also expressed the hope that this project will not he permitted to interfere with the allocation of iron and steel products to essential industries throughout the Commonwealth. The provision of an efficient railway transport system is absolutely essential to the development and progress of any country. We all are aware that the countries of Europe have adopted a uniform system of railway communication under which railway rollingstock from one country is interchangeable with that from another. When we consider how much has been accomplished in that regard in European countries, we must realize how backward we are in Australia. In the United States of America, where the railway systems are operated by private railroad companies, a uniform railway gauge has been adopted throughout the length and breadth of the country. The railroad companies have reached an agreement under which the rolling-stock of all companies can be utilized over the whole of the railway system. It was an eye-opener to me to see how, in the makeup of big goods trains, trucks of innumerable railway companies were all coupled together. In any country, and particularly in a country of vast distances, railway rolling-stock should be capable of being used throughout the length and breadth of the land. The existence of many breaks of gauge in Australia is a great disadvantage, particularly in time of war. The lack of railway gauge standardization in this country causes inconvenience to passengers and, what is more important, necessitates the transfer of goods from one railway truck to another at certain points. When the goods are heavy or bulky, that is a serious matter.

It causes delay and inflates freight charges. I am sure that every one with vision regards the standardization of railway gauges in this country s& a task that must be undertaken eventually.

The agreement that has been arrived at between the Commonwealth and South Australia is very pleasing to me. For years I have advocated that railway transport facilities in South Australia should be improved, and that we should take advantage of the lessons that can be learned from the railway electrification and standardization projects that have been undertaken in other countries. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) questioned the wisdom of proceeding with this project at the present time. I appreciate the force of the re- marks that the honorable gentleman has. made about the shortages of materials from which we are at present suffering, and particularly of materials that are manufactured from iron and steel. I was a member of the South Australian Parliament when the proposal to widen the gauge of the railway from Wolseley to Mount Gambier was discussed and the enabling legislation passed. The South Australian Government realized that it was necessary to avoid the break of gauge at Wolseley, which was, to a great degree, preventing the efficient transport of goods by rail from the south-eastern corner of the State. It considered the need to widen the gauge of. the railway from Wolseley to Mount Gambier to be so urgent that it was prepared to proceed with the necessary work at a time when there was a great shortage of man-power in the State. We must be consistent. We should not criticize this Government for its proposal to proceed with railway gauge standardization in South Australia during a period of shortages of materials and remain silent about what the South Australian Government did during a similar period. Some of the credit for the work that has been accomplished upon the relaying and broadening of the gauge of this railway in the southeastern part of South Australia must be given to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell). I am certain that the progress that has been made upon that project would not have been possible but for what the Minister has done to bring migrant labour to Australia. If South Australia was justified in proceeding with that work, then the Commonwealth and South Australia were justified in concluding this agreement.

I understand that the first gauge standardization work to be done under the provisions of this measure will be upon the railway from Broken Hill to Port Pirie. I realize that some difficulties may be encountered in relation to the section of line between Broken Hill and Silverton. It is to be hoped that New South Wales will co-operate with the Commonwealth and South Australia and make it possible to proceed with the work on that section. It would be futile to increase the gauge of the railway line from Port Pirie to Silverton and not the gauge of the line from Silverton to Broken Hill. Unless the Commonwealth can enter into an agreement with the Victorian Government for the standardization of the gauges of the Victorian railways, a great many of the benefits that could be derived from the standardization of South Australian railway gauges will be lost. It would not be much good to have a standard gauge line from Adelaide to Serviceton and a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge line from Serviceton to Melbourne. That would make confusion worse conf ounded. I hope that the action that has been taken by the Commonwealth and South Australia will result in similar action being taken by the Commonwealth and Victoria.

I am very sorry that it has not been possible for the Commonwealth and the States to reach agreement upon a plan for the standardization of railway gauges throughout the whole of Australia, with the exception of some parts of Queensland. One difficulty was that the New South Wales Government considered that, because the New South Wales railways were standard gauge railways, it was unfair to ask that State to bear a proportion of the cost of standardizing gauges in other States. I am pleased that the Commonwealth has been able to assist the South Australian Government by assuming responsibility for the payment of 70 per cent, of the cost of the work that will be done in South Australia. That will enable South Australia to undertake the railway gauge standardization work in that State that would have been undertaken if the wider agreement had been concluded.

I do not desire to labour this matter further. I wanted to voice my meed of praise of the two Governments for having negotiated this agreement. I congratulate the Commonwealth upon the magnificent way in which it has helped South Australia by assuming responsibility for much of the work that would have been undertaken by New South Wales if the wider agreement to which I have referred had been concluded. The cost of the work would be prohibitive if it had to be borne by South Australia alone. When the standardization of railway gauges in South Australia has been accomplished, the rolling stock will be able to lie used throughout the State and not only in certain circumscribed sections of it. I commend the Minister for having introduced the bill. I trust that effect will be given to it by proceeding with the work at a reasonably early date.

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