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Thursday, 30 September 1971
Page: 1790

Mr BENNETT (Swan) - This Bill illustrates clearly the Commonwealth Government's attitude to State governments, for the funds to be made available to the Western Australian Government will not be by way of grant but as a loan requiring high interest payments. The Commonwealth's attitude has led to a situation in Western Australia where most major railway developments, and possible areas of profit for railways, are in the hands of private enterprise. I instance the north-western area of Western Australia where the railway lines which carry the iron ore have been developed and are owned by private companies instead of by the Commonwealth or the State. If, instead of adopting a niggardly attitude, the Commonwealth had had vision it would have been possible for the Western Australian

Government to develop these lines. For that matter, if the Commonwealth were genuinely interested in national development and decentralisation it would have taken the initiative and ensured Australian ownership and control of these railways. It would have linked them with a coastal rail system thereby linking the Geraldton rail terminal with northern ports. This would be the logical step in providing a rail link for the northern ports with the rest of Australia.

The Government has expended enormous sums on subsidising airlines and coastal shipping services and it is incredible that a feasibility study was not made of the works proposed to be undertaken in accordance with this railway agreement. It is the Government's lack of vision which continues to hinder the development of Australian transport systems. At present the Government is pursuing a piece by piece programme under which in most cases funds are available only to improve existing routes. No overall planning is envisaged and instead of there being effective development the Government is trying to solve existing problems. It is necessary to extend and redesign marshalling yards and freight terminals. One wonders whether the works that have been completed already will not require further expansion. I hope that when that situation arises the Commonwealth will make funds available not only for that purpose but also to enable a proper study to be made of future requirements so that, high tonnage lines will not be developed by private combines leaving only uneconomic areas for government railways.

The agreement overlooks one important issue. No provision is made for the rehabilitation of tracks and rolling stock. The Commonwealth, in effect, is saying to the State: 'We will help you establish the standard gauge and to acquire rolling stock, but it will be up to you to maintain them'. It is too much to expect a State to bear such costs. It will be impossible for the State to meet such expenditure under the present financial structure of the Commonwealth and the States. This is a national project and should be planned on that basis. The time is overdue for the Commonwealth to take a truly national interest in the future of Australia's transport systems. The Government should drop its ill-planned, stop-go, stopgap policy of waiting until a problem arises before it reacts slowly to deal with it - that is, if it deals with it at all. This attitude is evident in the Esperance to Kalgoorlie railway line fiasco.

Where is the Government's interest in national development and decentralisation? Seemingly it has no interest in the national development of Australian railways. If it were interested it would be promoting the improvement and standardisation of suburban rail systems to a modern standard. It would be financing experimental passenger systems, not only on an interstate basis but also on an intrastate and suburban basis in an effort to ensure that our railway systems have an economically competitive future and do not deteriorate to the stage where they become a drain on the taxpayer. A feasibility study should be undertaken to determine whether railway systems should be a drain on the taxpayer or should be developed as a community amenity. A study should be made of suburban railways as a means of easing road congestion, reducing the road toll and combating pollution. This is the type of thinking which is needed; not the type of thinking which permits the construction of a standard gauge line on which trains, like the Indian-Pacific train, operate at an average speed of only 45 miles an hour. It is as quick to travel by motor car as it is to travel by the Indian-Pacific. In fact I could make a journey a dam sight quicker in my car. Perhaps there is some additional profit to be gained from selling sleeper accommodation. Perhaps the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon) will explain the motives in placing into service something which, by world standards, is obsolete.

It is envisaged on a world basis that future trains will travel at speeds ranging from 150 miles an hour to more than 300 miles an hour. It is ridiculous that with Australia's vast distances the Australian public should be given such poor service. The maximum speed at which the IndianPacific train travels is 75 miles an hour, and this is on our main east-west line. That maximum speed is maintained for a brief time only, hence the low average speed. Perhaps the Minister will be able to indicate whether it is proposed to speed up this service. We cannot make our railway systems pay because we are suffering from obsolete planning and obsolete equipment. We have an obsolete Federal Government whose lack of consideration was typified by the recent overnight increase in Commonwealth rail fares when pensioners and others who had planned to travel were faced with increased fares making it impossible for many of them to travel or, because of the short notice involved, if they did travel, to arrive at their destinations with no spending money. I instance this situation as an illustration of the lack of thought and consideration which seems to filter through all aspects of Government policy.

As the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) mentioned, Western Australia is not receiving favourable treatment. In fact the treatment it is receiving is inequitable. It will be faced with unreasonable interest rates and whatever expansion works it undertakes will be a direct drain on the State Treasury or on Commonwealth funds which are made available to that State. It is time action was taken to conduct a feasibility survey to ensure co-ordination of all forms of transport and to review subsidies to enable a rationalisation of the cost to the Australian taxpayer, particularly because of the lack of overall return on public money invested in our railway systems. The Australian taxpayer must meet the total cost involved in this Bill as well as the interest payments that will become necessary. Although the payment to the State may seem substantial, the situation is frightening when regard is had to the amount that must be repaid simply because the Commonwealth Government will not recognise its responsibilities and make grants to the State or remove from the State the responsibility for constructing the railway works proposed.

The east-west line is the only all-weather land link to Western Australia. The Commonwealth Government has seen fit to refuse funds for an all-weather road so it is important that the proposed standard gauge lines linking with the main railway system should be developed for defence, trade and tourist purposes. The Commonwealth Government should provide at least one fully integrated land transport system to Western Australia. It should not wait until ad hoc pressures from private development companies force a decision which may be too late. The profitable ore lines are in the hands of private companies and the cost of obtaining the use of such lines or acquiring them would be prohibitive. The present situation is similar to what would be the situation if all airports were in the hands of private companies. There is lack of planning and the situation could arise under which the decisions concerning Australia's internal rail transport were made in overseas boardrooms and were dependent on fluctuations in overseas markets and economies. It would be appalling if this situation were allowed to develop, but there are no Government plans to provide railway extensions into our northern regions. Obviously such development will come only with private companies which will consider their own needs and not the needs of the Australian community. If they want any moneys for development from the Commonwealth, they must repay the amount almost twice over, as is the case in this instance. The Commonwealth has made an investment for which it will receive the benefit of having an integrated rail development on which to utilise more efficiently its own rolling stock, achieving more economic use and quicker turnround of its own rolling stock and all the profitable benefits which accrue. It is regrettable that it never took a larger degree of responsibility in the matter. Once again, it is leaving the State to carry a heavy financial burden.

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