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Wednesday, 1 October 1958

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - It is refreshing to find real unanimity between members on the Government side and members of the Opposition concerning something which is happening in the last stages of the Government's life.

If the Government or the Prime Minister

My purpose in rising is to point to one or two features which should be uppermost in the minds of those most concerned with the change in the transport system which is taking place in Australia. It is a fact that when this Government came into office in 1949 the question of standardization of railway gauges had been very capably dealt with and reported upon by the Government then going out of office. During the life of this Government transportation costs in Australia have risen to a level which is nigh to breaking the back of our economy. When we think of the standardization of railway gauges in this year, 1958, we do not think in terms of new railways being constructed as they were constructed ten years ago; we think in terms of new lines such as that constructed between Marree and Stirling North. As a result of the new form of diesel-electric traction, 5,500 tons can be hauled at high, speed over that line at a cost reduced to a figure never before contemplated in this or any other country.

When I was in Brisbane to-day, I heard some comment about the proposal to spend £25,000,000 to restore the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge line between Mount Isa and the coast. I could not help but think that would be a waste of public money when diesel-electric transport was available. That £25,000,000 would go a long way towards providing a transport system between Mount Isa and the coast similar to that operating between Marree and Stirling North. One important advantage would be that all the iron ore at Mount Isa, right down to the last ounce, could be carried and utilized. At the present time, ore with 4 per cent, or less iron content is left in the ground because the cost of transporting it would be too high. Our whole economy rests upon the capacity of this Government, or whatever government follows it on 22nd November, to reorganize successfully the whole transport system of Australia.

The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) said that he hoped there would be a re-orientation of our thinking on railway transport systems. Because the New South Wales Labour Government has adopted, over the last five years, the system of railway transport which the honorable member mentioned to-night, that system is now able to compete with any form of transport between the city and the country. This month the Victorian Railways will begin to operate a diesel-electric system from the fruit-growing areas to Melbourne which will leave highway transport for dead. In the border press this week there have been accusations of cut-throat methods in transport competition. The very things that have been spoken about to-night are already in operation.

The Commonwealth Railways to-day provide a classic example of what can be done in modern rail transport such as is possible with diesel-electric locomotives. According to the report on Commonwealth Railways operations for the year 1957-58, earnings increased during the year by £384,243, whereas working expenses during that period increased by only £14,067. That is the story running through the Commonwealth Railways ever since diesel-electric traction became available to the service. One great advantage is that there is no need now for watering places, and the crossing stations that were necessary in the old days have been eliminated. This would be an enormous advantage if a diesel-electric service were put into operation between Mount Isa and the coast.

The Minister, in his second-reading speech, played on the fact that there would he great speed on the service between Sydney and Melbourne. On that we agree, because it is essential. It is the case with the service operating now between Sydney and Brisbane. But because of diesel electrification, the economy of towns between Sydney and Brisbane, such as Taree and Grafton, has received a setback. We find that as many as 50 or 60 families are no longer required in those places because of this new form of transport. Despite the great increase in the haulage of freight in all parts of the country, the membership of the union to which I have the honour to belong is falling at the rate of 250 a year, and that has been going on throughout Australia for three years. If we give effect to the suggestion of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), over the next five years the New South Wales railway system will require 6,000 or 7,000 fewer employees. This Government and other governments of the day must keep in mind that we are obliged to ensure that our economy is stretched so that men who are displaced as a consequence of more modern transport will not be left on the scrapheap. We must find some way to train them for other work. I make the plea now for this to be done to help those who have been displaced and who will be displaced.

This modern form of transport will give a tremendous fillip to the Australian economy. It will reduce considerably the cost of transport, which now represents 32 per cent, or 33 per cent, of the total cost of goods. We must understand that what is happening now between Albury and Melbourne is only the start of a great forward move in the re-organization of Australia's rail transport system. Rail transport over long hauls will always defeat any other form of transport, provided it is given a proper basis on which to operate. One point that disturbs me is that the States again will be required to pay interest on their share of the money needed to build these new railways. The States are already overloaded with interest rates. New South Wales is now paying interest to the tune of £14,000,000 or £15,000,000 a year on money used for railways that were constructed before I was born and in subsequent years. This state of affairs cannot continue. In re-organizing the railway system throughout Australia we must remember that half our population is to be found in the capital cities, some of which are 3,000 miles apart.

Let me again make the point that those now engaged in rail transport will be severely affected by the new methods.1 However, railway men will not be the only ones affected. A great change can be expected in the road transport system. Only recently, I discussed this matter with some of those who are concerned with road transport. As I say, the press to-day is crying out that the railways are entering into cutthroat competition. However, the railways in their approach to the problem to-day will outstrip road transport in the future on long-distance hauls, and that will be a good thing. In extending diesel electrification, we should be careful to ensure that at all times we have a sufficient quantity of oil to meet our needs. We should provide for the possibility of a reduction in the quantity of oil available to us. However, let me say that on long hauls such as we have between Marree and Stirling North, between Mount Isa and the coast, and between our capital cities, diesel electrification will completely transform rail transportation.

The honorable member for Mackellar suggested that the next step should be the standardization of the line from Adelaide to Broken Hill. Despite the reports of the Government committee and the Opposition committee, my inclination at this stage is to standardize the line from Kalgoorlie to Perth. The report of the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner for this year shows the tremendous increase that is taking place in haulage on Commonwealth lines from east to west. With the tremendous increase that can be expected in the volume of freight, I think that the next most economic stage would be from Kalgoorlie to Perth. At the moment, it costs more to haul a loaded truck from Kalgoorlie to Port Pirie than it would to haul the same amount of freight from Sydney to Perth, if we had a through run. Once we get rid of the break at Albury, the break at Kalgoorlie will be the most costly spot in the rail transport system in Australia. A close analysis of what is happening will show that the delay there is costing a vast sum of money.

I should like to put the case of the men who will operate, as a national service, this new form of rail transport mentioned by the honorable member for Mackellar. They will run a fast service in a way that will bring great benefits to the community and to the country generally. They are entitled to some return for the effort they will put into this service. Throughout the world to-day, a different system of payment to that generally accepted in Australia is adopted for those who operate rail services. I am pleased that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) is in the chamber, because I put it to him that the time has arrived when the system accepted in Germany, Great Britain and America for the payment of those who operate fast services in the national interest should be adopted by the arbitral system of this country. At present we have standing in our way the fact that there is a belief on the part of the arbitration system that anything other than an eight-hour day or a 40-hour week is an interference with, the standard working week. That principle is not accepted in any other part of the free world for those who work these fast services. I am sure that if the honorable member for Mackellar examined this point he would agree with me that the men who run the services should receive some recognition for their efforts in the national interests.

I ask the Government not to delay any longer in exploiting our capacity to expand. Valuable assets are available to us and we should lay the rails that are necessary to give to this country a railway system that will substantially reduce the impact of transport costs on our economy of transport.

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