January 31st 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: More surprises likely in Queensland poll

EDITORIAL: The dark side of the Internet

TRANSPORT: Waterfall crash report indicts NSW State Rail Authority

CANBERRA OBSERVED : Vultures circle wounded Democrats

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Paper children / The peripatetics / The serious people we are losing

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Mixed outcome on same-sex bill

ECONOMY: Amend Trade Practices Act to protect small business

Super rethink needed (letter)

Population: quality, not quantity (letter)

Upgrade our rail system (letter)

FAMILY: Fatherhood and marriage - a vital connection

COMMENT: Castro's legacy: the New Left

TAIWAN: March election a key issue in China

TRADE: NAFTA - lessons for Australia

BOOKS: DIGNIFIED AND EFFICIENT: The British Monarchy in the Twentieth Century

BOOKS: A NEW CITY: Photographs of Melbourne's Land Boom, edited by Ian Morrison

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Upgrade our rail system (letter)

by Kevin O'Neill

News Weekly, January 31, 2004

I write in relation to the recent announcement by the Defence Minister that Australia will have to spend $50 billion up to 2013 for ships, aeroplanes, tanks and other equipment.

A significant amount of this material will be located in Northern Australia and offshore, and will have to be maintained and supplied by our existing transport infrastructure, the core element of which is our rail system, which is in a parlous state.

World War II demonstrated that the break of the Australian rail gauge is an acute and vital problem for the defence of Australia, but no completely satisfactory system has been found.

Apart from the new standard gauge line to Darwin, which has great defence significance, little has changed for the better in our rail system.

True, our capital cities are linked with a common gauge. However, north of Brisbane, probably our most defence-sensitive areas, we have the narrow gauge that existed in World War II.

Unless we maintain vast quantities of military materials in northern areas, our resupply difficulties will be much the same as they were 60 years ago.

World history indicates that a well-organised defence is more likely to ward off a potential predator and more likely to commend us to an ally.

Elimination of the break-of-gauge would be a net gain to the Australian economy. It is reported that economists who have studied the problem say that they do not know what the cost of the break-of-gauge has cost the Australian economy; they know only that the cost has been astronomical.

The rising freight task, estimated to double in the next 15 years, the rising dollar, together with the development of Australia demand that Australia take a decision to eliminate the break-of-gauge as a matter of defence and economic urgency.

Kevin O'Neill,
Tocumwal, NSW

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