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Thursday, 31 May 1973
Page: 3073

Mr Calder asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:

(1)   Did he present a paper to the North Australia Development Symposium in February 1966 advocating completion of the Darwin-Alice Springs-Port Augusta railway, and construction of branch lines to both Mount Isa and Wyndham.

(2)   Is the Government committed to -

(a)   undertaking, as a matter of urgency, construction of these standardised rail links in the interests of national defence and national development and

(b)   providing feeder services for the cattle raising industry.

(3)   If so, what is the present attitude of the Government towards completion of this railway.

(4)   Has a programme been established for the railway; if so, what priority has been given to the project.

(5)   If there is no priority, will he take early action to implement the proposal.

Mr Whitlam - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   In an address on Government Responsibility in Northern Development which I gave at the Symposium on Northern Development at the University of New South Wales on 14 February 1966, I said: *Road and rail routes are hampered by the notion that their function is to provide access to the capital cities. The gap in the North-South Railway is an obvious barrier to development The narrow gauge railway has been reconstructed from Townsville to Mount Isa with Commonwealth loans but no provision has been made to extend it to the North-South Railway through the Barkly Tableland. A branch line from Katherine to Wyndham would also tap the Kimberley area in Western Australia. There is an urgent need for the Commonwealth to integrate and modernise all rail, road, air and port facilities in northern Australia with the rest of Australia. The Commonwealth has existing transport commitments in the North. It has made special allocations for ports, aerodromes, beef roads and railways in the area. It has an obligation to co-ordinate these transport facilities and reduce their cost

(2)   It is part of the Platform of the Australian Labor Party to undertake the construction of the North-South standardised rail link in the interests of national defence, national development, and to provide feeder services for the cattle raising resources of the Northern Territory and the western area of Queensland.

(3)   , (4) and (5) The Australian Government is currently negotiating with the Government of South Australia to secure an agreement to the construction of a new standard gauge railway between Tarcoola and Alice Springs. This line, which would be the first stage of the North-South link, will replace the existing narrow gauge line to Alice Springs. When that agreement is received, enabling legislation will be introduced to the Parliament to authorise the commencement of construction.

My colleague the Minister for Transport is giving consideration to requesting the Bureau of Transport Economics to undertake, before the standard gauge line to Alice Springs is completed, a comprehensive study of the costs and benefits of extending the line north of Alice Springs. The study will provide an essential adjunct to the Australian Government's consideration of the extension of the railway line north of Alice Springs.

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