Each year, the Henry Parkes Foundation arranges for an oration to commemorate a definitive speech made by Sir Henry Parkes in October 1889 at Tenterfield, NSW. This speech gave real direction to Federation of the Australian colonies. The 2011 Henry Parkes oration was on the topic of railways and a brief summary (from the Summer 2012 edition of Track and Signal magazine) follows. The 2011 and earlier orations may be viewed at http://www.parkesfoundation.org.au
By Philip Laird – University of Wollongong
In his 1889 speech, Parkes had a clear vision of an Australian Federation that included an efficient rail system to increase both the nation’s defence capability and its prosperity.
If Sir Henry were to return today to Australia, he would be impressed with advances in railway engineering along with some world class operations. However, he would be greatly disappointed and quite angry at the substandard nature of rail in New South Wales. He would also demand to know why, 110 years after Federation, the nation’s railway gauges had not been standardised; and, why successive federal governments have failed to give Australia a fit for purpose rail system.
As a result of decisions taken at the 1897 Australasian Federal Convention in Adelaide, it was agreed that the powers of the Federal Parliament would include post and telegraphs offices along with defence and customs. However, the control of the railways, except for defence purposes, was to remain with the States.
Over time, this decision not to transfer railways to the Commonwealth has proven to impose additional costs to Australia. Had railways been a Federal responsibility, as they are in Canada and the United States, the following 12 benefits could well have been realised. Continue reading ‘Railways in Australia: Federation Unfulfilled’