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Wednesday, 16 October 1974
Page: 1789

Senator YOUNG (South Australia) - I rise to speak on this Bill and give my support to it. Whilst I am very pleased that at last agreement has been reached between the State and Commonwealth governments, at the same time I, like many South Australians and Territorians, have been particularly concerned that it has taken so long to reach a situation where finally we can see a start on this very important rail link. Transport is one of the most important areas in any community. It adds so much to costs generally and, therefore, if we have inefficient transportation we will have costs unnecessarily added to our economy. This is something that we in South Australia particularly have faced for a long time because we did not have what could be termed a uniform rail link with the other States of Australia, with the exception of Victoria. With the construction of the standard gauge rail from Adelaide to Crystal Brook, Adelaide will be connected to every capital city in Australia. Perhaps more importantly, South Australia will have a uniform rail, without the need for transhipment from one gauge to another as we have had in the past, connecting our eastern and western seaboards. The industrial areas of Adelaide, particularly Mile End, will have direct access and efficient transportation to the markets both east and west. We already have a standard gauge railway line established in the industrial area of Whyalla at the top of Spencer Gulf, connected to our eastern and western seaboards. When this line is finished this industrial town will be connected to a uniform gauge to Adelaide. Port Pirie was known for many years- it sits directly across the Gulf- as one of those rare railway stations with 3 gauges coming into them. Soon Port Pirie will have a single standard gauge connecton to places throughout South Australia.

There is still one link that is not connected. No doubt it is full of great problems. I refer to the standardisation of the railway line between Adelaide and Melbourne. One would hope that this will not be forgotten in future projections for rail transportation in Australia. Whilst Adelaide will be connected to the eastern and western seaboards it still would be to its advantage and to the advantage of cities on the eastern side to have an alternative rail route. I hope that the Government has not lost sight of the need to standardise the railway line between Adelaide and Melbourne.

One other aspect which I am also pleased to see in this Bill is that some of the feeder lines are being standardised. I refer particularly to that rail link from Snowtown to the port of Wallaroo. South Australia is fortunate in having quite a few seaports but Wallaroo services quite an area and will be able to service a much larger area with the standardisation of the railway line. This should be of great benefit to so much of the midnorthern area of South Australia. The Government has made certain allocations for the development of this railway, lt has left the construction of it in the hands of the South Australian railways. Senator Steele Hall queried whether the railways will be able to sub-contract any of this work or will do all the work themselves. This is one question I would like anwered because one of the areas of great concern, particularly at present, is the escalation of costs through inflation. There is so often a tendency when governments try to do work themselves for the work to take much longer than planned and for costs to be far more than originally provided for in the Budget. This has been one of the tragedies of this project from the very beginning. In the initial stages when it was mooted the cost would have been minor compared with what it will be today. One wonders, even though the Government has stated figures, what the ultimate cost will be when this line is completed.

With so much unemployment at the present time and the problem of finding positions for so many people who would much prefer to be employed than to be receiving charity, as so many people call it, through no fault of their own, I wonder whether the Government could not increase the work on this railway line. This would not require any increase in total budgeting for it, but it would give many people employment and at the same time hasten the final standardisation of this railway link. I refer particularly to the rail link between Adelaide and Crystal Brook and to the feeder line between Snowtown and Wallaroo. We hear talk about giving assistance in regard to unemployment in the rural areas and in the cities. So much assistance could be given in this bad unemployment situation. People could feel that they were receiving an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. I make that suggestion to the Minister very seriously.

I turn to the other proposed rail link between Tarcoola and Alice Springs. This is a rail link that is long overdue. For so long we have seen a situation in which at certain times of the year the rail and road links to Alice Springs are completely closed. This is a matter that should be given priority and should have been given priority before this time. It is interesting to note that the route for the projected railway will not be the same as that taken by the present railway. Great problems are faced because the rivers flood out over great areas. Hence, the route will be west of this area and will be away from this watershed.

I would hope also that, in the development of this rail link, the establishment of the road will not be forgotten. I think it is essential that there also be a highway through that area. I remind the Minister of the statement made by the Prime Minister during the election campaign this year. The Prime Minister stated in South Australia that the Government intended to build a 2-lane highway- I emphasise the words '2 lanehighway' from Adelaide to Alice Springs. I have asked a question of the Minister on this matter. He has supplied an answer to me, indicating that the Government intends to make a start on this project by way of undertaking surveys this year. I feel that this is essential, because 2 things are necessary when this new rail link is eventually built to Alice Springs. It is taking a new route. This will affect adversely such areas as Marree and so much of the high quality cattle country in that area of South Australia and also the Northern Territory. I hope that priority will be given to such matters as efficient feeder roads. Beef roads have been constructed in Western Australia and Queensland. I hope that the same consideration will be given to developing feeder roads to serve these areas, once served by a railway line, to make sure that they have good transportation to the rail link.

Alice Springs is a rapidly developing city. It is no longer a bush town in the centre of Australia. It is essential that it have good communication. By communication, I do not mean communication by telephone or by radio; I mean physical communication or transportation. This is affecting so many things, not just the people living in Alice Springs. This country is trying to develop tourism. We advertise so much for people to go the Centre. But how often do we read of passenger buses loaded with tourists being bogged in the mud for days? It provides no encouragement for people to go on a tour of the Centre when they have this fear in the back of their minds. There is not much fun in sitting around in a bus with a sea of mud about you when you want to get out and see other parts of the country. There are many reasons why the rail link and the road should be developed as quickly as possible.

I am very pleased that politics have not been brought into this debate so far. I feel that the Senate tonight has discussed this matter on a level of national interest serving not just my State of South Australia but the whole of Australia. However, there is one matter that concerns me and I must make reference to it. It is a statement made by the Minister for Transport in his second reading speech in another place. The Minister said:

I emphasise that it was the Commissioner -

That is the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner who took the initiative and not the then Liberal-Country Party Government.

I think it is unfortunate that the Minister saw fit to introduce politics into the matter in that way. I remind honourable senators that the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner was doing his job. But he was doing Ins job for a government. That government, the then Liberal-Country Party coalition Government, was the government of the day which initiated investigations for the development of a new rail link to Alice Springs- a standardised rail link. Successive governments have continued with this task. It has been a very big task, but progressively it has reached the stage where today we are going to make a start.

I commend this Government for being in the position that it is ready to make the start. I take nothing away from this Government for the fact that it is about to make the start. But I regret the fact that the Minister for Transport sees fit, in regard to national issues such as this one which are of great importance to this country and which do not serve one State more than another, to introduce cheap politics into the matter. I wish that that sort of practice would be dropped. There are far more important things to do than to play petty politics on issues of such great magnitude as this. I mention this matter because the second reading speech of the Minister for Transport delivered in another place was also delivered in the Senate. This statement appeared in the second paragraph of the Minister's second reading speech. It was set in a position of prominence to try to make out that the present Government should be given the kudos for what is being done and that no credit should be given to any other government of this country. I do not accept that sort of thing in politics and I regret very much that the Minister has seen fit to do it.

I also wish to make some comments in relation to Tennant Creek. There is much mineral development in the area and no doubt there will be much more as time goes on. One of the great deterrents at the present time to the development and expansion of the area and to the encouragement of further exploration for and exploitation of minerals is the high cost and inefficiency of transportation. Senator Jessop has referred to this position tonight. I might say that Senator Jessop has shown a great interest in the development of transportation to the north for many years. He referred to the great problems of obtaining foodstuffs in Tennant Creek during the floods last year. The livelihood of so many people in this area is dependent wholely and solely upon mining. Yet some of those mines reached the very dangerous situation of having to close down completely last wet season because communications with Tennant Creek were completely cut off. Food and other supplies were short for the mines themselves. Also, stockpiles were built up, causing disruption to shipping and exports to other countries. One mine in particular exports a great deal of concentrate to Japan. It had the problem of re-arranging shipping. All these things add to costs. These increased costs add to the discouragement of further expansion and development in this area. It is most important that encouragement be given for further development of mining and other projects in this area. I state again that I hope the Government will not lose sight of the need eventually to have a rail link to the Tennant Creek area and that in the interim the Government will make sure that the people have good road communication. I repeat that I support strongly these Bills, and I am glad that at last a start is being made on 2 very important and necessary projects for the welfare and benefit of this country.

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