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Wednesday, 16 October 1974
Page: 1748

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

As this second reading speech is a repetition of a speech on the same subject delivered in the other

House, I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows)-

This Bill seeks the ratification by the Parliament of an agreement made between the Australian and South Australian Governments for the construction of a standard gauge railway from Tarcoola on the Trans-Australian Railway, to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Honourable senators will recall from statements made by the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) that Agreement had been reached in April with the South Australian Government for the construction of the railway.

The construction of a line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs was an option open to the Australian Government in the Railways (South Australia) Agreement Act of 1926, but instead the present narrow gauge line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs was constructed. The possibility of constructing a standard gauge line from Tarcoola was not again considered until 1966 when the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner took the initiative and examined the advantages of a completely new route. In 1967 he made his report examining three alternative proposals but coming out strongly in favour of the new route which is now proposed. At the time the Commissioner was concerned at the very high cost of maintaining the existing narrow gauge railway, the continued disruptions to the service and he was no doubt also influenced by serious flood damage which occurred in 1966. The Senate will remember that the worst flooding in Central Australia in living memory occurred this year and that services on the Central Australian Railway were virtually suspended for 3 months, with serious consequences for the people of Alice Springs and the Northern Territory.

In 1968, the then Government decided to investigate the relative merits of an improved road link as against an improved rail link. The resulting study led to the conclusion that the economically preferred course was to go ahead with the standard gauge railway, but that a fully sealed road to Alice Springs was also justified. In July 1970 approval in principle to construct the line was given and negotiations to obtain the consent of the South Australian Government for the construction of that part of the line within the State were begun. These negotiations proved to be protracted and it was not until earlier this year that the Minister for Transport was able to finally resolve the numerous difficulties raised by South Australia. The Agreement, which is a schedule to this Bill, was then signed by the Premier and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). The State Government has agreed to introduce enabling legislation as soon as possible.

The new route, approximately 830 kilometres in length from Tarcoola, has been carefully chosen to avoid areas subject to flooding and indeed some minor changes have been made as a result of the exceptional 1974 conditions. Honourable senators may appreciate that the construction of the proposed line will be a project of world stature. Commonwealth Railways will be the constructing authority. An amount of $ 145m has been provided in the Bill as the maximum allowed by the legislation and includes provision for minor design changes and some increases in costs that may occur over the duration of the project. It is expected that construction of the line will take about 5 years to complete; however, it is likely that goods will be transferred to road transport at the railhead after 3 years or so. The diversion of some traffic to the new line will relieve the pressure on the narrow gauge section of the present line and improve the service to the Northern Territory at the earliest possible time.

In addition to the benefits of a high capacity line and freedom from interruptions to the service by floods provided for the Northern Territory by this line, further advantage will come from the construction of the standard gauge link from Adelaide to Crystal Brook which is the subject of separate legislation. This latter line will be constructed at about the same time and will allow the through running of standard gauge trains from Adelaide to Alice Springs. This will eliminate the delays in transit at present caused by the transfer of goods to standard gauge at Port Pirie and then to narrow gauge at Marree. The people of the Territory can look forward to a substantial improvement in the service provided by their railways. I am sure the Bill will receive the support of all honourable senators. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Jessop) adjourned.

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