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Thursday, 16 May 1968

Mr CALDER (Northern Territory) - I rise to speak about the chaotic situation of transport and communications in the Northern Territory. Once again I am imploring the Government to treat this matter as urgent. The Port Augusta-Alice Springs railway has already been cut six times this year. The railway commenced operating only yesterday after the last occasion on which it was cut. The longest period during which it has been out of action was, I think, 5 weeks, when the bridge over the Finke River was washed away. The operators of this line now consider it an operational and economic embarrassment. Until 3 years ago, when the seasons changed in central Australia, this line was operated at a profit. During the last 3 years, however, what with flying passengers to and from Oodnadatta, trains being delayed all over the place and costly repairs having to be carried out to both bridges and track, the operation of the line has been carried out at a considerable loss.

So today 1 stand here and again ask the Government to consider very seriously constructing a new standard gauge line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs. The line would pass by Coober Pedy, where there is now a population of 1,000 or 1,200 people, with cattle stations in the vicinity, then through Mt Willoughby and Kulgera, which is starting to grow into a small township, Erldunda and Palmer Valley, which are cattle stations, and then on to Alice Springs. The new line would run 100 miles west of the present track and through country which is considerably higher than that through which the existing line runs, and where the creeks and rivers are much smaller and would not give nearly so much trouble.

Blockages of this line and breakdowns in communications affect the whole of the Northern Territory and not just the Central Australian area. Large quantities of perishables are off-loaded in Alice Springs and carted up the Stuart Highway to Darwin. All kinds of general cargo are taken up that highway to Darwin and other centres en route. Tennant Creek obtains some fuel in this way. Some 30,000 tons of copper concentrate is carted down the road from the Peko mine at Tennant Creek. This forms a major export item. The local newspaper at Tennant Creek, the 'Clarion', frequently complains about the irregularity of communications which puts mining operations in jeopardy. Tourist agents are also embarrassed by breakdowns in communications. An article in today's 'Australian' says:

Stranded tourists squelch their way soggily into the town days late.' This article refers to the north-south road which, of course, is very bad in wet weather.

Mr Jessop - Some people have been forced to sell their cars, have they not?

Mr CALDER - Yes, some of them have had to abandon their cars in Coober Pedy and other places because they have been unable to proceed. Building contractors find themselves stuck for cement when they are half way through a project. We can hardly carry cement by air, although last year at the time of the major floods we arranged for a Hercules aircraft to take a load of cement to the area in order to keep workers going. The Northern Territory is developing at a great rate and the building trade is a very real one. Therefore, if there are delays in obtaining builders supplies there can be a tremendous amount of trouble.

While I am speaking about railways I shall mention the line further to the north, the North Australia Railway, which is carrying iron ore to Darwin. Shortly it may also carry sorghum. This line has been upgraded from Pine Creek to Darwin but there is a serious shortage of locomotives and rolling-stock and cattle men in the Territory are facing serious trouble in getting beef to the meatworks for export. Only last week 320 head of cattle bound for the Darwin meatworks had to be transported by road at a cost of $8 more per head than if they had been put on the train at Larrimah.

These are the things that are happening. Transportation in the Territory is in a chaotic condition. Every time there is a decent fall of rain the southern railway line goes out of action. The south road to Adelaide, which carries a tremendous number of tourists, is just a dirt track. Last week there were hundreds of tourist vehicles bogged along this north-south road and generally in that area on roads between Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Darwin and Adelaide. Tourists have had to send for money for air fares in order to return to their homes. Transport schedules are haywire and everything is in a chaotic condition. This is why I raise this subject today. Many tourists travel along the pastoral roads in buses. These roads are graded flat. Had the roads been crowned during the last 50 years a lot of the present trouble would not have occurred. I make a plea for a greater allowance for the grading of pastoral roads and a different approach to the operation. Flat grading results in the roads becoming creeks in times of heavy rain. In the past the authorities have merely flatgraded a new road and this has become another creek, and the road built to replace it has simply become another creek, and a third road to replace the second road has also become a creek. Had they been crowned in the first place they would now be 3 or 4 feet high and there would not be this creek effect.

I want also to mention the shipping position at Darwin harbour. This port is growing very quickly. A big iron export trade is building up and with the successful harvesting of sorghum from the Tipperary area many more thousands of tons of cargo will be moving through the port. At the moment if more than two ships are alongside the Stokes Hill wharf there is utter confusion. There is a very slow turnround on the waterfront, mainly because the wharf labourers are going slow. The wharf labourers are working to regulation. It took them 48 days to turn round a 5,000 or 6,000 ton ship, which was one of the last vessels in the port. This turnround time is quite incredible. However, they have something because there is utter confusion on the wharf when there are two or three ships berthed. I urge the Government to look into the causes of this confusion, step in and do something for the Northern Territory which is developing so rapidly and to such a great extent. The Territory will soon be doing a lot for Australia.

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