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Thursday, 30 September 1971
Page: 1792

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) (Minister for Shipping and Transport) - in reply - I would like to make one or two general comments before answering the specific questions raised by the various honourable members who have spoken to this Bill. Running through the speeches of the 3 honourable members of the Opposition who have spoken on this Bill has been the common trend of blaming the Commonwealth for all the ills of the railway system. As is usual, the Opposition is completely ignoring all the rights and the roles of the States. The Constitution shows that the railway systems in the States are in the control of and operated by the States. This does not mean to say that the Commonwealth does not take an interest. In fact. it has taken a very keen financial interest during the life of this Liberal-Country Party Government over the past 20 years, to the tune of investing approximately $240m in railway systems. It ought not to be forgotten, though, that if the States do not set high priorities in their own budgets, that must lead to the running down of the State railway systems. In fact, in some States that has occurred.

We have reached a stage with our railway systems today when something more must be done. The Commonwealth recognises this. The Australian Transport Advisory Council, of which I am chairman and which is composed of all the State transport Ministers, has recognised this. Indeed, we have established a special committee to examine in some depth the problems with which the railways are faced. The resources of the Bureau of Transport Economics, which is part of my Department, will be called upon for expert advice in that field. We have gone one stage further than that to try to assist the States with their problem. At the recent Australian Transportation Conference it was recommended that we ought to set up a Transport Industry Advisory Council. This body is now in operation. It consists Of road transport operators, people with interests in shipping, as well as some of the commissioners of the railway systems. It is the intention of the council to report directly to me on the various transport systems of Australia. Of course, the members of the council will be taking a keen interest in the railway situation.

Several direct questions were asked of me by the honourable members who had spoken. The honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) wanted to know whether, if the $125m mentioned specifically in the Bill was over-spent, the Commonwealth would be prepared to contribute a greater amount. Of course, the fact is that the Western Australian Government and the Commonwealth Government do not expect the amount to be exceeded. But naturally enough the Western Australian Government has a

Fight to come to the Commonwealth Government if that amount is exceeded. The Commonwealth will consider any submission that is made.

I think there is a lack of understanding of what has occurred in the Western Australian railway system by honourable members who have criticised the financial arrangements made by the Commonwealth with Western Australia. An unfair comparison has been made between the standardisation .projects in New South Wales and Victoria and in Western Autralia, The fact is that when the Western Australian standardisation agreement was signed the Western Australian Government took the opportunity to renew a great deal of its railway system. It undertook more than just a standardisation programme. In fact, it rebuilt a number of marshalling yards; this cost millions of dollars. It spent $30% on new, modern rolling stock and locomotives, while only Sim was spent on rolling stock in the New South WalesVictorian arrangement It substantially upgraded a very critical section of the narrow gauge system east of Perth, replacing the old line through the Darling Ranges which had tortuous curves and steep grades. The Western Australian State Government provided for itself about 136 miles of extra main line to handle the new and diverted traffic. So the standardisation agreements really cannot be compared. The Western Australian Government, as a result of Commonwealth 'assistance, has been able to build for itself a modernised railway system.

The question of funds has been raised by the 3 speakers who have spoken. For the interest and information of honourable members, I shall give them the figures in this regard. I think this illustrates the point that I have just been making about the development proportion involved in this agreement. The total estimated cost of the project is $125m, of which half - $62.5m - was for development of new railway systems in the Western Australian area. The remaining $62.5m was for the standardisation proportion of the programme. So it cannot be said that the Commonwealth has not been ungenerous at all. A proportion of money that is to be paid back for the development section of the programme is to be paid back mostly over 50 years. The Western Australian Government has not said to me at any time that it is unhappy about the financial arrangements that have been made.

I think the 3 speakers raised the question of the Indian-Pacific run, claiming that it is far too slow and wanting to know what plans exist for speeding it up. Speed is not the only factor. I think this can be amply demonstrated by the demand for seats or beds on the Indian-Pacific express. In fact, bookings are 3 months ahead. So the people of Australia and the visitors who come here are not so concerned about speed as perhaps honourable members who have spoken. Nevertheless, when the Australian Transport Advisory Council met the State railway commissioners the question of increasing the speed of the service was raised. The State railway commissioners have returned and will try to overcome the problems experienced by the various States in linking up services so that the time of travel can be reduced. We are currently looking at the prospect of a third train for the service. We are hoping to be able to reduce the time taken for the journey on this particular service. But it has to be remembered that there are problems of individual State interests with the need to meet connecting services. There is the problem of arranging time tables so that a train does not arrive or leave in the middle of the night. We believe that the new tracks are good, and, as I said before, we are working out proposals so that a third Indian-Pacific train can run somewhat faster.

The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) raised the question of the Kalgoorlie-Esperance standardisation claiming that it was in nature similar to the Western Australian project. Correspondence has passed between the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and both the present Premier of Western Australia and the last Premier of Western Australia about the possibility of the Commonwealth assisting with the standardisation of this line. Up to this point of time, we have adhered to the attitude that the private enterprise company itself ought to be encouraged to assist in the manner that private enterprise companies in the north west of Western Australia have done where substantial railway lines have been built by the iron ore companies. So at this point of time the Commonwealth has not agreed to assist with the financing of the Kalgoorlie-Esperance line.

I think the final matter that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie raised was the fact that this line was referred to in the Clapp report. Studies that have been made in later years show that wholesale conversion of these sorts of systems is not entirely economic. Modern transfer methods, such as bogie exchange, bulk conveyors and containers have been developed which turn out to be far more economic than gauge conversion except in the case when very large volumes are transported such as for mineral traffic and main intercapital routes. I would like to thank honourable members for the interest they have taken in the Bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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