LETTERS: by Kevin O'NeillNews Weekly
After Anderson (letter)
, September 20, 2003
Regarding the "National Party and the Anderson Legacy" (News Weekly
, August 9), the National Party is certainly in the wilderness, but it is not the fault of John Anderson.
One of rural Australia's greatest needs is a policy of rail reform, after 100 years of neglect and missed opportunities.
All too noticeable in rural Australia are closed rusting rail lines, overgrown with grass with trees growing up between rotting sleepers, a constant reminder of the failure of National Party policy.
Railways are the greatest engineering project in Australia and potentially one of the great networks of the world. Its greater mileages lie in National Party electorates.
In fact, it is "a can of worms" with three different rail gauges, three different non-interchangeable fleets of rolling stock, six different mutually hostile administrations and intransigent unions.
Built by skilful, dedicated engineers with horses and drays and maintained by hardworking fetters whose wives and children not long ago lived in camps under harsh conditions, the rail network of rural Australia served the rural people and the great export industries that made Australia - agriculture, grazing and mining.
Rail is a great basic industry needing strong political support and leadership.
Located mostly in country Australia it is a political project tailor-made for the National Party.
Sadly, the Nationals have lost the plot. They have chosen the soft option of road reform, a motherhood wish.
Everyone, country and urban, wants better roads. But rail is the core element of a successful transport policy.
It is the hard yard of Australian politics and it scarcely gets a mention at National Party meetings.
Twenty years ago, in 1983, Hon Ralph Hunt, National Party MP and Minister for Transport in the Fraser Government, proposed a standard gauge rail link from Melbourne to Brisbane via Tocumwal on the Murray, linking ports in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. It suggested the best rail path through Victoria, western NSW and western Queensland to Darwin across the Barkly Tableland.
It would have linked together National Party seats from outside of Melbourne through NSW and Queensland to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
With the defeat of the Fraser Government it has not been on National Party agenda since. However, two blue ribbon National Party Federal seats, Murray and Farrer, on this proposed rail development, have fallen to the Liberals. Other National Party seats, State and Federal, are up for grabs by Independents and Liberals.
However, all is not lost. The Federal Parliament Green Paper suggests that John Anderson has "seen the vision splendid" of rail reform. It is to be hoped that he will continue as Federal Minister for Transport and continue the good work.
The narrow gauge States of Queensland and Western Australia should be offered subsidies to progressively re-sleeper their lines with gauge convertible sleepers and convert to the national gauge and a common pool of national gauge rolling stock. This would save the economy astronomical sums, lift the defence profile of Australia and save the National Party from oblivion.Kevin O'Neill,
Tocumwal Branch National Party,