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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1871

Mr WALLIS (Grey) - I wish to pass a few comments on a number of matters which come within the administration of the Department of Transport. In the last few days, 1 have not agreed with many of the remarks made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder). But at least I do agree with him tonight as to the condition of the Stuart Highway which runs from the border to Port Augusta. Certain information given by the honourable member was incorrect. He said that the road from Alice Springs to Port Augusta was a dirt one. The South Australian Government has been working on this road and has completed bitumenising 65 miles of it. The South Australian Government expects to have further bitumen work to Woomera completed by the end of next year which will mean that 115 miles of this road will have a bitumen surface.

This is a most important roadway in the electorate of Grey. It runs for some 600 miles through my electorate and serves the opal mining centre of the world, Coober Pedy. As we all know, exceptionally heavy rains have fallen this year. Depending on whether one is going on holidays or is relying on the land for one's living, this year can be described as being a good year or a bad year. The fact is that on numerous occasions in the last 6 months or 8 months, this roadway has been closed completely for days on end. Tourist buses, semi-trailers and people in caravans have been stranded on many occasions at various points along the highway. I hope that in the national planning of our highways the Stuart

Highway from Port Augusta to Alice Springs will receive due consideration. It does serve a specific area. The township of Coober Pedy which, I repeat, is the opal centre of the world relies on it. Coober Pedy has a population of approximately 4,000 people. Two of the most important townships on this highway in South Australia are the Woomera village and Coober Pedy. They are the only big centres served by it. But I feel that, in the long range planning of our highways, efforts should be made to bitumenise this highway completely. That is what people in this area are entitled to expect.

There is another matter I want to deal with in this debate although it may touch on the estimates for the Department of Supply. During those times when this highway could not be used permission has been granted in emergency cases to use the bypass through the Woomera rocket range area thereby cutting off approximately 50 to 60 miles. This road is not all bitumised but it is for a considerable part of the way. As I said, there have been occasions when permission has been granted to use this bypass in cases of emergency. There have also been occasions when permission to use it has been granted to public servants situated in the north who wished to travel south. I intend to make an approach to the Department of Supply to ascertain whether permission can be granted for this road to be used on occasions other than when the normal route cannot be used. The use of the Woomera road will save a considerable amount of time and travel will be over a much better roadway. As I said, the South Austraiian Government is doing its part in regard to this highway and it hopes to have the highway completed as far as Woomera by the end of next year. We would hope that the Government in its national planning will, by the injection of Commonwealth finance, help to expedite the sealing of this highway.

Another matter of concern in the same area is the Tarcoola-Alice Springs railway line. For most of this year as a result of heavy rainfalls the existing narrow gauge line north of Marree has been continually affected by flooding. At times when the roadway and railway line would not be used because of flooding supplies had to be flown into Alice Springs. It was agreed some time ago that this line should be improved. The present Government has not altered the plans. We would certainly hope that in the very near future a start would be made on this section.

Last year when this matter was raised the question was put as to what type of sleeper would be used on this track and also on other Commonwealth Railway lines. The Government at that time did commission a study by the Bureau of Transport Economics to ascertain what types of sleeper should be used - timber or concrete. The Bureau brought down a report which favoured the use of concrete sleepers. The reasons were clearly set out in the report brought down by the Bureau but I would say that the then Government for political reasons decided not to accept that report. The then Minister stated that timber sleepers would be used. As I said, I think that decision was purely a matter of political expediency and was made with the idea of trying to save a seat in Western Australia.

I know that this matter has been resubmitted for consideration. The Minister for Transport has informed the chamber that both the timber industry and the concrete industry have been asked to make submissions which will be examined by the Bureau of Transport Economics. 'The Minister will make the final decision. I would certainly hope that in making that decision the Minister will favour concrete sleepers because I think that, apart from the report brought down last year by the Bureau which favoured concrete sleepers, it is the considered opinion of all competent railway engineers that this is the most advanced method of building railway lines. The Commonwealth Railways for some time have been utilising all-welded rails in most sections of railway. Last year the section of line from Port Augusta to Whyalla, which has an allwelded track and has concrete sleepers, was completed. To my knowledge that line has not given a great deal of trouble - not the sort of trouble that one would expect from a newly laid track. I think that experience has indicated that concrete sleepers are the sort of sleepers to be used in a bed for new railway lines. It is a fact that because of the extreme temperatures in the area in which this railway line is situated there has always been a very great possibility of buckling. But with the utilisation of concrete sleepers, the extra weight to hold the line down, the method of attaching the track to the sleeper and the fact that it is an all-welded rail will go a long way towards obviating the possibility of buckling rails in hot weather. It will certainly make a much better and much more solid track. As I said, the previous decision on the type of sleepers to be used favoured timber sleepers for reasons of pure political expediency. I hope that when the report does come down it again comes out in favour of concrete sleepers and that the Minister accepts the report and decides to go ahead with this particular track using that type of construction.

There are a few more points that I should like to make. Quite recently, there was a dispute on the Commonwealth Railways involving the wages staff. The wages staff has been discontented for some time over the amount of expenses they receive when they are required to work away from their home station. It finished up as an industrial dispute lasting a couple of days. As a result of the conference that followed that dispute the men went back to work and a case was put to the officials of the Commonwealth Railways who agreed that there would be an increase in their expenses. This dispute is indicative of the discontent that often arises in the staff of the Commonwealth Railways. I consider that the difference between conditions applied to wages staff and those applied to the salaried staff have always been a source of discontent. I ask the Minister for Transport whether he will examine the conditions that apply in the Commonwealth Railways and, in cases where there is a big difference between the conditions that apply to wages staff and those that apply to salaried staff, whether he will examine those differences and see if something can be done to put the wages staff in a more equitable position.

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