3rd Parliament · 4th Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Prime Minister, in view of the fact that the colliery proprietors at Newcastle have refusedto meet the miners in open conference, if there is anything that he can do as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth to force their hands? That is the only honorable action that’ could be taken under the circumstances, and would, no doubt, prevent the most disastrous calamity that could befall the Commonwealth.
– I recognise the gravity of the crisis to which the honorable member has called attention, and of which he has personal knowledge. If there were anything the Government could do to compose this unhappy difference, we should be most anxious to seize the opportunity ; but certain conditions must be fulfilled before action can be taken by the Commonwealth. Until then, or unless other means of action are suggested, the better way is, as I suggested on Friday last, to remain silent. It is not from want of a sense of the far reaching consequences of the dispute, or from lack of readiness to interfere, if that could be done effectively, that I repeat that counsel.
– Is the Postmaster-General aware that there is something wrong with the Queensland telegraph lines? Every telegram which I have received during the last fortnight has been a day or two, and sometimes three days, behind time. In one case, a letter arrived more quickly than a telegram. Quite recently I have received two telegrams, one sent from Longreach at fourteen past 2 on the 15th, arriving at fourteen past 12 on the 16th - an unreasonable time for transmission; and the other taking from 3.30 to 7.56 to reach me. This state of affairs appears to be chronic in Queensland. One of the telegrams which I have received says -
Will you kindly bombard the Telegraph Department re repeated delays of transmission of press wires, Brisbane to Charleville.
I have repeatedly complained of these delays, but can get no satisfaction. It is strange that every telegram which I have received from Queensland during the past three weeks has been stamped “ Delayed by interruption of lines.” I ask the PostmasterGeneral to look into the matter, and ascertain: why the delay takes place.
– This, is the first complaint that I have heard about the Queensland telegraph lines, and I am surprised by it. I very much regret that the honorable member has been inconvenienced, but I shall cause inquiries to be made to ascertain what has occasioned the delays. I hope they have been due to some extraordinary electrical or other conditions for which the Department is not responsible.
Protection of Natives
– I wish to know from the Minister of External Affairs whether he has received from certain philanthropic planters in Papua a request to be allowed to establish native settlements on or near their plantations, for civilizing purposes, and, if so, what action he proposes to take?
– The Department knows nothing of the proposal.
– Is the honorable gentleman aware that the signing on of native women and the establishment of village settlements near plantations has been directly proposed to the Government of Papua on one or two occasions, and that it - certainly the Lieutenant-Governor - is strongly adverse to the proposal?
– I have noticed the statement in a leading article that such suggestions have been made, and I understand that the signing on of women was proposed, with the result indicated. The ordinances were recently amended, to place an officer in charge of the natives to safeguard them, the tendency of both ordinances and regulations being to do all that is possible for the protection of the natives so far as labour conditions are concerned.
– Does the Prime Minister propose to subsidize Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole?
– No proposal of the kind has been received or considered by the Government. Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition was subsidized because of the probability that without assistance it would fail. We have had the testimony of its leader that, but for our help, it would not have accomplished its principal results. No proposal for the subsidizing of Captain Scott’s expedition has been before us, nor is it manifest that the Commonwealth’s intervention is needed.
.- As a matter of privilege, I desire to make reference to a record appearing in last Friday’s Votes and Proceedings. I desire, sir, to bring up two points for your consideration. I quote the following from the Votes and Proceedings : -
I say that that record is incorrect. Mr. Deakin did not move “That the Bill be now read a third time.” Every honorable member who was present in the Chamber at the time is aware that that question was put from the Chair upon your initiative, and not upon any motion previously submitted by the Prime Minister. I object to the statement which I have quoted appearing in the record of our proceedings on. Friday last. I wish also to bring under your notice a more important matter with regard to the alleged passing of the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill. I direct your attention, first, to what is required under the Constitution, in order to pass any measure proposed to alter it. Section 128 reads -
This Constitution shall not be altered except in the following manner : -
The proposed law for the alteration thereof must be passed by an absolute majority of each House of the Parliament.
That is one of the terms of the agreement into which the people of the different States entered when they accepted the Constitution - that before it could be altered the proposed law to alter it must be passed by an absolute majority of each House of this Parliament. I am aware that in standing order No. 186, departing from the practice in some of the State Parliaments, and the practice which obtains in one House- of the Imperial Parliament, and also in Canada., we have provided- that -
After the third’ reading no further question shall be put, and the. Bill, shall, be deemed to have- passed the House.
I wish to submit that if. the- Constitution contemplates a further stage after the third reading of a. bill, that after the third reading has been agreed to, the question shall be put “ That this Bill do now pass “ no standing order of ours can in any way abrogate that provision. We have no power to extend the meaning of the provisions of the Constitution. We thought that we had. We thought, for instance, that when, under the Constitution, we were given power to deal with trade marks, we might- go so far as to- call a> trade un:on label’ a. trade mart; but we’ were told that this; Parliament has not the power to alter the terms of the Constitution. I submit that it is in accord with a very well-known practice to assume that, after the third, reading of a Bill, a further stage is necessary in order to pass it. I quote, first, from. Bourinot as to the Canadian practice. In section 15 of his work he deals with the third reading, and in section 16 with the actual passing of a Bill, and he says at. page 627 -
The next question put by the Speaker -
That is to say, after the third reading - is “ that this Bill do pass.” Now, sir, you did not put that question on Friday last.
– We are not bound by the Canadian practice.
– Is that question provided for in the Canadian Standing Orders ?
– I cannot say whether it is or not,
– It is.
– I shall deal with that in a moment.
– Our Standing Orders cannot override the Constitution.
– I am quoting this to show that it is common in Parliamentary procedure and practice to recognise another stage as necessary after the third reading of a Bill. Bourinot continues -
This motion generally passes nem con. immediately after the third reading, though it is quite regular to defer the final passage until a future date or to move that the further consideration of the Bill be postponed, or to propose other amendments against the principle of the measure, with a view to preventing its passage.
– Has that ever been done in this Parliament?
– Not in this Parliament.
– Then why raise the question now ?
– I am going to submit that those who entered into the agreement embodied in the Constitution, understood that it was contemplated by the Constitution that it could only be altered in. a certain way, and we have a right to insist that everything that it was contemplated by the Constitution could be done shall be done before- the Constitution is altered. I say that, in our procedure in the passing of any measure to alter the Constitution, we must strictly follow the course laid down in the Constitution. We must act up to the last letter of the Constitution if we desire to alter it. I refer you now, sir, to May’s Parliamentary Practice, 10th edition, to show that in the Imperial Parliament also it is the practice, at least in the House of Lords, and has been the practice in the House of Commons, that, after the third reading of a measure, it must pass through another stage, when the question is put that the Bill do now pass. I hold that, when the Constitution provides that an absolute majority is required to pass a Bill proposing an amendment of the Constitution, that is the stage in contemplation, and that an absolute majority is required in favour of the motion, “ That the Bill do now pass.” At page 472, May, in explaining the practice in the British House of Lords, says -
A Bill has been read a third time and further proceedings on the question “ That this Bill do pass “ have been adjourned to a future day.
Then an example is given in these words -
After the third reading of the Queen’s Degradation Bill in the House of Lords,10th November, 1820,the further consideration of the Bill was put off for six months.
Who can say that honorable members of this House might not have desired to follow the example of the British House of Lords in the case quoted, and put the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill off for another six months?
– A good many would like to have done that.
– I am sure they would. Because, if they could have put it off for six months, they would have put it off for all eternity, since it would never have been brought on again.
– I am afraid the honorable member is on a bad wicket.
– If it were put off for three weeks, it would never come on again.
– I am aware that the procedure referred to by May is not now followed in the House of Commons. The putting of the question “That the Bill do now pass” has, been omitted in the House of Commons, although there is an entry made in the journal of the House that the measure has been passed. I submit that we have a right to claim that what is done in the British House of Lords and what is done in the Canadian Parliament, and, further, what is contemplated by the Commonwealth Constitution, shall be done in this case, and that the actual motion required for the passage of the Bill shall follow the motion for its third reading. I submit, further, that it is upon that motion, and that motion alone, that, under the Constitution, it is necessary that there shall be an absolute majority of the House in the affirmative.
– I am afraid that the ingenuity of the honorable member for Werriwa has not, in this case, enabled him to discover a point worth much consideration.. This is about the first occasion upon which we have found honorable members opposite seeking their precedents from the House of Lords, and ignoring the practice of the Commons. If the honorable member bad consulted the latest book on the subject, published, I think, by the Clerk of the House of Commons, on the procedure of Parliament, he would have found that the practice of putting the question “ That the Bill do now pass” is an old formula still observed in the House of Lords, but discarded by the House of Commons. At page 162 of the Clerk’s Manual,he will find that, in accordance with paragraph 205-
After the third reading of a Bill no question is put to the House “ That the Bill do pass.”
So I am at a loss to understand what the honorable member is complaining of if it is admitted that we are here following the practice of the House of Commons,; then I have to point out that section 49 of the Constitution provides that the powers, privileges, and immunities of the House of Representatives shall be such as are declared by the Parliament, and that until then they shall be those of the House of Commons. Under section 50 it is within our competence to make rules and orders with respect to our powers and privileges and conduct of business. As a matter of fact, so far from our having by the Constitution adopted anything in the way of the procedure of the House of Commons, in the first Parliament we had no Standing Orders whatever. We had to proceed on common-sense lines, and to trust to a regard for that decorum on the part of honorable members which is recognised as essential. Our Standing Orders prescribe the third-reading stage as the last stage of a Bill, and declare that when the third reading has been carried the Bill is passed. I do not know what the honorable member was thinking of.
– But what does the Constitutionprovide?
– It provides that the Bill shall pass, but the House hasdeclared that the third reading of a Bill is the test of its passing. If my honorable friends wish to learn anything in this regard, I hope that they will not go back to that House of anachronisms, the House of Lords.
– That is simply an appeal to prejudice.
– No. I say that what the honorable member suggests is allied to the practice of the House of Lords, and not to the House of Commons, and that the only reference in the Constitution to any procedure that we want relates, not to the House of Lords, but to the powers, privileges, and immunities of the House of Commons. The only test is our own Standing Orders, or, if there be none, that the House has passed the Bill by any resolution. Our Standing Orders provide, however,, that the third reading is the final stage of a Bill, and that stage has been passed in the case of the measure under review. I do not know whether I have convinced honorable members, but if they desire to refresh their knowledge they have only to look up a recent addition to our Library - -Redlich’. monumental work of three volumes on the Procedure of the House of Commons. That work, written by a foreigner, has been exceedingly well spoken of in England ; and, as it points out, until comparatively recently there was no such thing as a reading. The readings are not the essentials. There is no difficulty in this case. 1’he third reading has been carried in accordance with our Standing Orders, and that is all that we have prescribed as to the test of passing. Once the matter passes beyond our ken, the records of the House <n matters of procedure are absolutely con elusive and unchallengeable as to what has been done.
.- It seems to me that there is open to honorable members opposite a far more efficacious means of testing the validity of our action on Friday last than that of bringing the matter up in this House. It will be remembered that some three or four years ago we passed a Bill providing for an amendment of the Constitution to enable members of another place to remain there a few months longer than they would have been empowered to do without an alteration of the Constitution. If my honorable friends opposite have any doubt with regard to this question, they may test the validity of that Act in the High Court of Australia. That measure was passed in exactly the same way as the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill was passed last Friday, and if honorable members opposite won on an appeal to the High Court as to the validity of that Act, they could win on an appeal in regard to the passing of the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill. I trust, however, that they will not take such action, because I have no desire to inconvenience the members of another place.
– With regard to the first point raised by the honorable member respecting the entry in the Votes and Proceedings - “ Mr. Deakin moved, ‘ That the Bill be now read a third time.’ “ I may point out that it has always been the custom in this House and in the House of Commons to take these formal motions as being moved by the Minister in charge on his signifying, by nodding his head, that he desires that they shall be so taken. Honorable members will recognise that, since it is well known who is in charge of a Bill, after it has passed the first and second-reading stages and has gone through Committee, it is unnecessary for the Minister to make a formal motion that the Bill be read a third time. Strictly speaking, however, a formal motion should be made, and in my opinion, should be put in writing before it is made. In future, perhaps, it might be well to submit such motions in a more formal way. With regard to the second point, I do not think that there is anything inconsistent in the practice that has been adopted hitherto with that which was followed on Friday last. Section 128 of the Constitution provides that a proposed law for an alteration of the Constitution must be passed by an absolute majority in each House, and, acting upon the powers conferred upon it by the Constitution, this House has adopted certain Standing Orders, one of which defines exactly the word “passed.” Standing order 186 provides that -
After the third ‘reading no further question shall be put, and the Bill shall be deemed to have passed the House.
The course adopted on Friday had been followed previously. As was pointed out by the Attorney-General, it is not now the custom in the House of Commons to put a further stage to the House, and, in the circumstances, I feel that in regard to this matter we have been following, not only our own practice, but, as provided for by standing order No. 1, the practice of the House of Commons.
– I regret to have to ask the Treasurer another question in regard to the administration of the Old-age Pensions Act. It is based upon a letter addressed to me by Mr. Solly, M.L.A., of “Victoria, in reference to a case arising under section 45 of the Old-age Pensions Act, which provides - -
If a pensioner becomes an inmate of an asylum for the insane or a hospital, his pension shall, without further or other authority than this Act, be deemed to be suspended, but when the pensioner is discharged from any such asylum or hospital, payment of his pension shall be resumed, and he shall be entitled to payment, in respect of the period during which his pension was so suspended, of a sum representing not more than four weeks1 instalments of the pension,’ if the suspension so long continued.
A Mr. A. Major went into St. Vincent’s Hospital, underwent five operations, and ultimately lost his right eye. His payments were stopped. When he came out the officers of the Department paid him up to date, but later on said that he had been overpaid £2. They retained £i in respect of one fortnight, and told him that they would deduct a further sum of £1 in respect of the second fortnight. Having regard to the provisions of the section that I have just quoted, I desire to ask the authority for this deduction, and should be glad if the Treasurer would inform me how he thinks this man is to live for a month without a penny.
– I’ should be glad if the honorable member would give notice of his question, in order to enable me to make inquiries.
– Shall I- hand the right honorable member the letter I have received on the subject?
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The following information has been furnished by the Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are : -
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 19th October, vide page 4667):
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 -
The agreement is by this Act ratified and approved.
– I think it would expedite the passing of this Bill if the consideration of Part II., which includes clauses 5 to 13 inclusive, were postponed until after the consideration of Part III. of the measure. Honorable members will observe that Part II. deals more with the machinery provisions of the Bill, and with the steps which will follow the adoption of the proposed agreement. Part III., on the other hand, deals with the provisions for giving effect to the agreement, and contains a series of covenants under which the Commonwealth will assume certain obligations. It is only in connexion with this portion of the. measure that any issues are raised. If we deal with Part III. now, we shall be immediately brought face to face with the issues which the Committee desire to decide upon in the agreement. I, therefore, move -
That clauses 5 to 13 inclusive be postponed until after the consideration of Part III. of the Bill.
Motion agreed to ; clauses postponed.
Clause 14 -
The Commonwealth, in consideration of the surrender of the Northern Territory and property of the State of South Australia therein, and the grant of the rights in the Agreement mentioned to acquire and to construct railways in South Australia proper, shall -
Be responsible for the indebtedness of the State in respect of the Northern Territory as from the date of acceptance of such surrender and shall relieve the State from the said indebtedness in the following manner : -
By annually reimbursing the State the amount of the annual interest paid by it in connexion with the loans in respect of the Northern Territory ; by paying annually into a Commonwealth Sinking Fund the amounts the
State has undertaken to pay into such a fund in connexion with the said loans; and by paying and redeeming at or before maturity the said loans.
Provided that, notwithstanding anything contained in the Agreement, the Commonwealth shall, if the Governor of the State of South Australia so requires, in lieu of being responsible for theindebtedness of the State in respect of that portion of the Overland Telegraph Line which is in the Northern Territory, compensate the State of South Australia for that portion of the line in accordance with section eighty-five of the Constitution.
– At the time I gave notice of the amendment which I now have the honour to submit I was not aware that notice of what is practically a similar amendment had been given by the honorable member for Robertson. However, upon communicating with him, he suggested that as my proposal goes somewhat further than does his own, I should propose it. I therefore move -
That paragraph b be left out.
The paragraph in question provides for the construction of the transcontinental railway, and I move for its omission in order to afford the Committee an opportunity of expressing a separate opinion upon the merits of each of the lines proposed under this clause, and also out of fairness to South Australia. I have no desire to secure by a test division against both railway proposals the support of those honorable members who may be in favour of one line and opposedto the other. But I think it is fairer that we should deal with each line separately. I recognise that South Australia has a right to have this question determined without delay, and, as the present may be the final opportunity which will be afforded this Parliament of dealing with it, I shall in no way attempt to prevent a decision being arrived at. I have already addressed myself to this question on the motion for the second reading of the Bill, and, therefore, I shall confine myself to a brief recapitulation of the arguments which I then advanced. Upon that occasion I stated that I was not opposed to the transfer of the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth. I am quite in favour of it. I am not opposed to relieving South Australia of the losses which she has sustained in its administration. I am quite in favour of taking over her loan indebtedness on the Territory and of dealing liberally with South Australia in regard to her accumulated deficit. I approve of relieving her of the present annual deficit of £158,000 upon the Territory, and of incurring responsibility for its future development. I recognise that the cost of that development will involve a considerable increase in the annual deficit - at least for a time. I am willing to incur all that responsibility, but I am not prepared to increase the deficit upon the Territory from £158,000 to over ,£300,000 annually by the payment of interest upon the construction of the proposed transcontinental railway, especially when the line from the southern border of the Territory to Pine Creek may be found to be anything but the most desirable “line to construct for its immediate development. South Australia ought not to expect to bind the Commonwealth - after the latter has accepted her responsibilities - to consider not so much the interests of the Territory, in the carrying out of developmental works therein as the interests of’ South Australia. But I venture to say that South Australian interests are not largely concerned in this matter. So long as South Australia gets a line constructed to a point from which the traffic will reach the south coast) she is likely to gain all the advantages that she may fairly anticipate. But the extension to Pine Creek of a line of railway through a district so far removed from the south coast of South Australia that its natural outlet would be the north, would not benefit that State very much. If we take over the Territory with its accumulated liabilities, and its annual deficit, we should at least be free to develop it in the most economical manner possible. Its development ought not to be retarded by the Commonwealth being called upon to shoulder a heavy interest charge upon a long line of railway to Pine Creek when experience may prove that a simpler and less expensive method of development may be more desirable and more successful. It would be a serious mistake to commit ourselves to this heavy expenditure on a line that will be non-revenue-producing for a great portion of its length, and by that means prevent our adopting a better route if such is afterwards found to exist. If after inquiry and experience, the line now proposed is found to be the best, we can adopt it, but it may be found possible to develop the Territory by another means, and at a much smaller cost, and we ought not, therefore, to bind ourselves in the way now proposed. We should be left free to act in the best interests of the Territory, which will really be in the best interests of the Commonwealth.
[3-4TJ- - The honorable member for North Sydney will hardly expect me to consent to an amendment which would in effect negative the agreement. This paragraph is on« of the terms of the whole agreement. Those who framed the agreement naturally looked at it, as a whole, from a national standpoint. Although individual parts might be picked out and considered, we had to view the question as a whole, and make such an agreement as we considered to be best in the national interest; For the Commonwealth to be able to develop the whole of the Territory by a railway, which would practically extend from sea to sea, appeared to us to be a great national advantage and national consideration. There seems to be some misunderstanding regarding the exact route which the overland line would take. As a matter of fact, the Commonwealth undertakes in the agreement to construct a railway, not from Pine Creek to Oodnadatta, but from Port Augusta to Port Darwin. All that we are bound to do is to keep within the Territory. In the building of the developmental line we may or may not keep along the route that is usually suggested, but, unfortunately, the mere existence of a map, with a line across it, conveys to many honorable members the impression that the railway must be built along that line, and that line only.
– I said from Pino Creek to the southern border of the Territory.
– No one can complain of the spirit in which the honorable member has moved his amendment, or of the fairness with which he has put his case before, the Committee. It must, of course, be remembered that there is nothing in the agreement to prevent the Commonwealth from allowing any of the States to connect with the overland line. We have power to build it., if we so desire, from Port Darwin right down to the Queensland border at Camooweal, and a connexion may be made at Camooweal first. Probably that would be the first connexion made with any other State. It is only natural to suppose that the Commonwealth, when intrusted with the power of building the line, will not immediately construct a long nonpaying railway and incur a heavy deficit and interest burden. What the Commonwealth will do will be to construct a line having chiefly in view the development of the Northern Territory, which will be the first obligation of the Commonwealth when it takes the Territory over. Our duty will be, not to do what is best in the interests of South Australia, or of any other State, but to do what is best in the interests of the development of the Territory itself. It is quite possible that we may construct a line to Camooweal, and then continue it down the Queensland border. Further, no specific time is mentioned as to when the line shall be constructed. It is not necessary to build it within the next few vers. To require that would probably be to retard the development of the Territory. The agreement has been so framed as to enable us from time to time to build sections of the railway in the interests of the development of the Territory as we think fit. Of course, it is only fair to South Australia to say that the objective in view is the construction of that line, and not to work towards that objective would certainly not be carrying out the spirit of the. agreement. We realize, however, that we are dealing not with individuals, but with national questions, and the nation will take proper steps to insure that the development proceeds from stage to stage. 1’ hope the Committee will stand by the national agreement and carry the Bill in its present form.
– The Minister’s speech is very unsatisfactory. He stated that in the agreement the Commonwealth does not undertake to .continue the line in any particu lar direction, or to construct it at any particular time. According to him, it may be hung up till Doomsday. We may have railways running in various directions towards Port Darwin along the Queensland border, with Port Augusta as the objective. In fact, the Minister has given a most unsatisfactory exposition of the agreement.
– The honorable member means that the agreement is unsatisfactory.
– There was no doubt in Mr. Price’s mind when he made the agreement, for he intended that the Port Augusta railway should be taken over and that the new line should be begun from the present terminus, and connect with the Port Darwin to Pine Creek line at the other end.
– He did not say so when he returned to South Australia after completing the agreement.
– Perhaps not, but that is what- is generally understood. The Minister now tries to put a different construction on the matter. He says we may play fast and loose with South Australia, and humbug her until Doomsday, He says, in effect, “Accept this agreement and we can do what we like. ‘ ‘ For my part, I have no intention of deceiving South Australia. I am not in favour of the railway proposed, and have no intention of voting for it. If, however, the agreement is carried as it stands,- there will be a moral obligation upon us to pick up the Port Augusta line at its present terminus, and run it across to Port Darwin. That would be expected of us, but I have no intention of voting for it. I think, with the honorable member for North Sydney, that, having passed the second reading, we have affirmed the principle of the Bill. We shall take over the Northern Territory, with all the losses upon it - an amount which I calculate at ^1,000,000. I am willing that the Commonwealth should bear that loss, but we must have the opportunity of saying what direction the railway shall take. To those who argue that the route proposed is the natural one for the railway to take, and that no other would be satisfactory, ‘or that no other line but the one that has been surveyed would pay, I reply, “ If that is so, ti.;– line is sure to take that route. When we set about constructing a railway, our responsible officers will ascertain the direction which it ought to take, and if your contention is sound, the route which you advocate must be adopted.”-
Parliament can be trusted to do the right thing. I should not think of sanctioning the construction of a railway in any direction on the dictation of South Australia, or any other State. The route of the line should be determined by this Parliament. I hope that there will not be a long debate, but that the Bill will be agreed to, and faith kept with South Australia.
.- It is all very well for the honorable member for Robertson, after having uttered views which must incite honorable members generally to a certain amount of opposition, to conclude with the expression of the hope that the debate will not be a lengthy one.
– I should like to see the Bill put through this session.
– Even if I were capable, I do not intend to follow in the footsteps of the honorable member, because I do not wish to prolong the debate ; but I think that some good might result if we could hear the opinion of an honorable member who has given more attention to the route by which this transcontinental . railway should be taken than has any other honorable member. Some years ago I was greatly taken by the arguments of the honorable member for Brisbane, who produced a map and documents, and showed us exactly where, in the broad interests of the Commonwealth, the railway ought to go.
– Did it resemble the map on the wall of the Chamber?
– Yes. If my honorable friend had been in Australia when the map was drafted, I should naturally have inferred that he had had a hand in its preparation. I should like him to express his opinion if he can see his way to do so, because I think that that would help honorable members. Do I understand that he refuses? If he does, I feel that I am almost in a difficult position, because., in the innocence of my soul, I had hoped that the opinions which he so strenuously advocated some years ago would be held by him today.I should not have referred to the matter if I had thought that his views had changed. If this had been part of the Ministerial policy, I should have felt great diffidence in referring to the matter; but my honorable friend joined a Government which had nothing to do with the original undertaking entered into between the Prime Minister and the then Premier of South Australia. Of course, it has to be proceeded with in the House, in order to keep faith with that State; but every member of the Government is not Caucus bound to vote against his convictions in order to carry the proposal. If he is, I profess that we are descending to rather an unsatisfactory position here. This is not a Ministerial measure in the ordinary sense of the term.
– The honorable member wants to make it an open question.
– It is an open question with Ministerial supporters, and it is very unfortunate indeed that a large percentage of the experience of the Chamber is centred in the Ministry. I would suggest that they might absolve the honorable member for Brisbane from any Quixotic regard for their solidarity, and enable him to explain exactly why he thinks that the railway should not proceed from Oodnadatta north to Pine Creek.
– He might take the bit in his mouth.
– It would be a large bit that the honorable gentleman would have to take. What I wish him to do is to explain to the Committee the glories of the country beyond Cloncurry, the ever flowing streams, the glorious prairies, and the heavily stocked stations in the Northern Territory west of the Queensland boundary. I want the honorable gentleman to enlighten honorable members in the same way as he enlightened me. I would not dream of asking him to do anything that is improper, and I am sure that if I did, he would not comply with my request ; but having regard to the great seriousness of this question, and how it affects the interests of Queensland, I hope that he will see his way to explain himself to the Committee with the same lucidity as he explained himself to honorable members on a previous occasion.
.- I think that honorable members unanimously favour the taking over of the Northern Territory, and admire the heroic way in which the Government of South Australia have endeavoured to settle it, but that does not absolve us from our responsibility to provide millions for its development. I cannot support the agreement as it is. I intend to support the amendment - first, because I am not sure that the railway route from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek is the best one which could be adopted; and, secondly, because I am not satisfied that it is necessary to construct a railway there at this stage. We ought to pause veryseriously before we commit the House to the expenditure of ^10,000,000, which would scarcely begin the great work of developing that large area. Several railway proposals have been . brought before the Committee. A line has been proposed by Mr. Wilson to terminate at Bourke, a distance of 1,860 miles. Another line has been proposed by Mr. Gwyn.neth to terminate at Broken Hill, a distance of 1,961 miles > and a proposal has been made to connect Oodnadatta with Pine Creek, a distance of 1,063 miles. Which line would be preferable in the interests of the Commonwealth, and in order to connect the southern States with the Territory in the north, is a matter which could only be properly determined by a survey, and an investigation of the” various routes. But I take up the position which I took up when the second reading of the Bill was being debated, and that is that for developmental purposes it is not necessary that a railway should be run through the centre of Australia, certainly not for very many years to come. We have only to take a common sense view of the situation, and to be guided by the experience of the States, to realize that at this stage it would be an absolutely unjustifiable expenditure. The carrying out of this agreement would straight away commit the Commonwealth to a debt of ^10,070,000. Of that sum, ;£6, 750,000 would be expended in taking over the line from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta, and connecting Oodnadatta with the Pine Creek railway. In my opinion, the latter sum could be better expended on purely developmental work within the Territory. That is, I submit, the only really practicable and possible way for the speedy development of that great Territory. That is one of the reasons why I am strongly opposed to the construction of, not only that particular line, but a line through the Territory at this stage. It would be a serious matter indeed to straight away saddle the Commonwealth with the responsibility of making up an annual deficiency of ^400,000, which the carrying out of the agreement would entail, as well as the expenditure of many millions of pounds. I have travelled through a good portion of the Northern Territory. I believe that it is capable of profitable development and great production, but I feel quite satisfied that that result could only be achieved by the expenditure of a very considerable sum on the construction of railways and capacious water storages and experimental work.
– It would be as costly a job as building icebergs at the equator.
– It will mean expense;, but if the matter is dealt with in a statesmanlike and practical manner, by the appointment, first of all, of a committee of management to formulate, on the best ad- . vice that can be obtained, schemes for theconstruction of railways, the conservation of water, and the establishment of experimental farms, it will be possible to found there what will, in the course of time, become one of the most important States of the Commonwealth. But for this work many millions of money will be needed. The first work to be done will be the construction of railways from the coast to the interior, for the conveyance of primary produce. Were the Territory as suitable for grazing as it has been claimed to be, it would have been developed long since by private enterprise, as the eastern States and Western Australia were developed. Despitethe difficulties to be encountered, hardy pioneers were found to develop this country without assistance from Governments > but in the Northern Territory, very littleheadway has been made.
– More headway would have been made had the South Australian Government permitted.
– The South Australian Government has been only too ready to leaseland in the Northern Territory.
– It has not permitted the sale of land.
– Years ago freehold tenure was possible; but comparatively little of the land was bought.
– The honorable member is speaking of a time forty years ago.
– The early squatters in the eastern States and in Western Australia developed the country on leaseholds of from twenty to forty years ; and similar tenure has been given in the Northern Territory. Had the country been more valuable, private enterprise would have already largely developed it, and, as a consequence, several railways would have been constructed from the coast inland. The large and varied production of India shows what is possible in tropical areas, and all the products that are now grown in that country, which supports a population of 300,000,000 persons, can be grown in the Northern Territory. To bring about this production requires the genius and industry of man. At one time, a railway from Port ‘ Augusta across the continent to Port Darwin was advocated for the transmission of mails from Europe; but now, as has been pointed out by the honorable member for North Sydney, it is found easier to land mails at Fremantle, whence they will in the future probably be forwarded by train to the eastern States. Thus, the only justification for a line across the continent from south to north is the possibility of developing territory, and I have yet to learn that such a line would best do what is needed. It is the northern half of the Territory which will contain the greatest amount of population, so that railways from the coast inland will be chiefly needed.
– Probably, most of the population will be situated in the MacDon- nell Range country.
– It has not been shown that that country is capable of large production.
– Mining is possible there.
– The existence of an unexplored mineral field is not a justification for the construction of a line of railway, and 1 have not yet heard much about the mineral deposits in the MacDonnell Ranges; though, of course, we know that there is gold there. Should a rich mineral field be discovered, that would, no doubt, justify the adoption of the proposed route instead of a more easterly one. But the production of the Northern Territory will be chiefly for export. The value of the primary products imported into Great Britain annually is £200,000,000, of which 6 per cent. goes from Australia. Many of the primary products which Great Britain imports could be grown in the Northern Territory, and, if exported, would be sent away from ports on the northern coast. That would necessitate the oonstruction of railways from those ports inland. In addition to the expenditure which will be needed for the construction of railways, the conservation of water, and the making of other public improvements, we shall have to spend also large sums in bringing persons from other countries. In view of the fact that we shall have an enormous developmental expenditure to face, as well as large expenditure on immigration, it is unfair to pledge the Parliament to the expenditure of £6,750,000 in addition to the transfer of the existing liabilities of South Australia. No doubt the Territory is valuable, and its transfer to the Commonwealth necessary to carry out a policy which we regard as essential to progress. The Commonwealth cannot do much for immigration so long as the States have complete control of the land, and the Territory offers an opportunity for the application of Commonwealth energy to the settlement of a large part of the Continent, which, at the pre-‘ sent time, is almost unpeopled. For the reasons I have given, I shall support the amendment.
– The honorable member for Wimmera said that the fact that the Northern Territory was not long ago developed by private enterprise is evidence of its want of fertility and unattractiveness. But to compare it with the territory in the other States to which he referred is hardly fair, since the latter enjoys reasonable facilities for the shipment of produce, and is situated nearer to centres of population. The Northern Territory has not been altogether neglected. Between thirty-five and forty years ago, the Honorable R. D. Ross, afterwards Speaker of the South Australian House of Assembly, promoted a syndicate in London for the taking over of the Northern Territory on the land-grant railway principle, but, by a majority of one, the Legislature determined not to grant the concessions asked for. As the syndicate was a very solid one, and meant business, the Territory would have been largely developed had the concessions been given. Then, nine or ten years ago, the Parliament of South Australia passed an Act providing for the development of the Territory by a land-grant railway. A syndicate was to be given alternate blocks, and proposed to spend some £6,000,000 on railway construction and other works, with probably another£6,000,000 to follow. The syndicate’s offer, however, was declined, and the leasing of the country for pastoral occupation has been in abeyance ever since, because the transfer of the Territory to this Government was anticipated. Consequently, although repeated and continuous applications have been made for long leases of country, pastoralists are able to rent the land only from year to year, and, with such uncertain tenure, it cannot be expected that much capital will be expended. The agreement contemplates a railway from north to south. It allows a wide margin for deviation, but the line must be constructed within the limits of the Territory proper. That is the view of the South Australian Government and people to-day, and any proposal on the part of this Parliament to go beyond the terms of the agreement will not be looked at by them for a moment. The agreement contemplates connecting Port Darwin with Oodnadatta, and the chief reason for proposing that condition is the desire to develop particularly the MacDonnell Range country. That part of the Territory is regarded by South Australia as offering the brightest prospects so far as its ultimate development is concerned. The mineral development of the MacDonnell Range country is assured. For the past fifteen or twenty years prospecting has been going on in that country, and particularly on the White Range, and mining operations have been carried on as far as it is possible to carry on such operations without the advantage of effective mining machinery. The use of such machinery has, of course, been altogether out of the question on a field so remote from any railway.
– Have they found a Kalgoorlie there yet?
– They have not yet found a Kalgoorlie, but I can tell the honorable member that the Government of South Australia have had established cyanide works in the MacDonnell Ranges for the last twelve years. A great number of miners have been employed on the White Range, and they have demonstrated the presence of gold-bearing deposits which would give a return of half-an-ounce to the ton, and in such quantities as would keep thousands of men employed in .mining for the next three generations. That is the deliberately expressed opinion of two or three Government experts who have successively been in charge of the cyanide works established at the MacDonnell Ranges. Manyprospectors who have been earning a good living for years in the MacDonnell Ranges confirm the opinion expressed by the Government officers who have been in charge of the works referred to. They are all of the opinion that if by railway communication up-to-date mining machinery could be landed on the spot a very important permanent mining industry would be developed there - not a mushroom industry which would be in progress to-day and gone tomorrow.
– According to the returns there are very few white miners working in the Territory.
– But look at the country they- have to cross in order to get there.
– I was referring to the MacDonnell Ranges. I admit that there is not a great number of white miners working there, but there would soon be if proper facilities were afforded for the transport of up-to-date mining machinery. I do not wish to delay the Committee, but I thought it was necessary to answer two or three statements which- were quite contrary to the facts, and to put before honorable members the real position, particularly in respect to the MacDonnell Range country.
.- The Minister of External Affairs has told the Committee that this particular paragraph is vital to the agreement. I was sorry to hear that, because I feel compelled to support the amendment proposed by the honorable member for North- Sydney. I have regarded the construction of the railway as a matter which should be left entirely to the Federal Parliament. We are- prepared to take over the Northern Territory with all its obligations and develop it. I am sure that members of this Parliament will always feel themselves under an obligation to do all they possibly can to develop every portion of Australia. The Minister has indicated that we are not bound to any particular line, but it seems to me that we should be bound under the agreement to make a connexion with the Port Augusta railway. I direct the attention of the Committee to paragraph g, which reads -
Allow the State to connect any new railway hereafter constructed by the State in South Australia proper with any railways acquired or constructed by the Commonwealth in South Australia proper.
That paragraph, it appears to me, must have an important bearing upon the proposal. I believe that under it it would be possible for the South Australian Government, at some future time, to construct lines of railway which would come into active competition with the Commonwealth line for the carriage of produce from areas on which we should have to depend for revenue to pay interest and maintenance charges of the Commonwealth line.
– To what areas does the honorable member refer?
– We do not know what railways might be constructed by the Government of South Australia in the future. I know that in Victoria many lines have been constructed which have seriously interfered with the revenue earned by lines previously constructed.
– There would be no revenue from the line built under this agreement.
– There might be a considerable revenue. 1 am, to a great extent, in agreement with the honorable member for Wimmera, as to the way in which the Northern Territory is likely to be developed. I believe that it will be developed from the north rather than from the south.
– I think the honorable member is wrong.
– I may be wrong, but all the information before us appears to me to point to that as the most reasonable supposition.
– We have so far had no information to the contrary.
– If, on taking over the Northern Territory, we are to construct a railway line costing .many millions of money, and involving the Commonwealth in a large annual expenditure, I think that it would be infinitely better to devote the money to subsidizing some lines of steamships to carry the produce of the Territory to a market. I think that the Commonwealth might gradually develop the Territory by establishing settlements in a few favoured localities. . I should be prepared to give a certain number of people land in the Territory for nothing until such time as some value for it had been established. This, of course, would involve the expenditure of money, and we might have to construct railways from the coast to the settlements in order to enable the settlers to get their produce to a port. But the money would be expended within our own territory, and we should be free to expend it in the best place according to the judgment of our own expert officers. I think that with our limited population the proposal that we should construct a line to connect Pine Creek with Oodnadatta is premature. It would be too big an obligation for us to undertake at present. 1 am heartily in accord with the proposal of the Government to take over the Northern Territory. I believe that that is the proper thing to do. After we have taken it over we might discover that the line proposed in the agreement is the best that could be constructed, and when that could be shown I should be prepared to support its construction. But at present I am inclined to think that it would be very much better for us to retain a free hand to develop the
Territory according to our own wisdom and judgment. Holding that view, I shall support the amendment.
– I think the amendment should commend itself to the common-sense and business judgment of the Committee. I quite recognise the advisableness from the military and from many other points of view, of the Commonwealth having control of the Northern Territory. I must, however, say that, in my opinion, rather too much importance has been attached to the defence aspect of the question. I do not think the unoccupied position of the Territory at the present time offers any very serious menace to the peace of Australia. I do not think that it offers any very great inducement to an invasion by any foreign Powers likely to assail Australia. It has been suggested that in the event of any trouble arising with eastern Asiatic nations the Northern Territory,- in its unoccupied and unprotected condition, would offer a very tempting invitation for the landing of an invading force. But one important factor in this connexion has beenoverlooked. That is that, although there might be facilities for the landing of an invading army in the Territory, there would be no means of sustaining it, and the difficulty of transporting an army across such an enormous stretch of comparatively barren and foodless country, before it could come into contact with the more popular centres of Australia, would be insurmountable. I think, therefore, that very great weight need not be attached to the defence argument in favour of the acceptance of the Northern Territory by the Commonwealth. I do not attach very much importance either to the magnificent word pictures which have been drawn by some honorable members who have advocated the transfer. Some of us have visited the Territory, and, so far as the limited means of transport, and the time at our disposal, would permit of an inspection of it, the portion of it we were able to traverse afforded no justification for the high encomiums passed upon it bv some enthusiastic members of the Committee, especially those representing South Australia. At the same time, T do not desire to cast an v doubt upon the sincerity of their descriptions. I think chat they have become so obsessed with the idea that this is a magnificent country, capable of development in the way they have described, that they really believe everything they say of it.’ The discouraging statistical information available, the fact that opportunities to settle this Territory have existed for generations, and that the teeming millions of Europe, although they have been looking foi generations for a suitable place to which to migrate, have seen no attraction in it, seem to me to afford absolutely conclusive evidence that it is not the most desirable place in the world for a white residential population. The Northern Territory was known to the Spaniards as far back as the sixteenth century, long before the Britishers knew of Australia or settled here. It has been known to the Spaniards, Portuguese, and Dutch, ever since, and though within easy reach of the Straits Settlements of the Dutch has offered, apparently, no temptation to them to migrate, and settle there.
– I understand that the honorable member discovered some armaments in the Northern Territory ?
– In company with another visitor, I found buried on the seashore an obsolete cannon and other ship’s gear which were at least 150 years old, and might have been considerably older. That shows that the Territory was known to other generations and was visited by ships before we, as colonists, settled in any part of the continent, and certainly, if it is the magnificent country that some would have us believe, the colonizing instincts of ‘hose who visited the northern shores of Australia long before the British landed on this continent would have induced them to form settlements there. That they left it severely alone is prima facie evidence that it was not considered a very desirable or profitable country to occupy. Another noteworthy fact is the absence of vegetation, and the stunted growth of the timber, which is sparse, and of poor character.
– There is plenty of grass.
– There is none to be seen - I am speaking of the country along the line of railway from Port Darwin to Pine Creek - except tall, coarse, cane grass, which grows luxuriantly, after the heavy rains, to a height of from ro to 12 feet. The soil, however, is porous, and over a wide area is micaceous in character. It does not seem to retain the moisture. There seems to be no moisture, even round the roots of trees, and that largely accounts, perhaps, for their stunted growth and unhealthy appearance. When the moisture has gone out of the ground, this tall grass withers, and, being unable, apparently, to support its own weight, falls. The heavy rains are all at one period of the year, and the greater part of the year is droughty. Yet residents told us that the soil would grow anything, from fruits, vegetables, and other products grown in the most temperate, if not the most frigid, climates, to those grown under the equator itself. On the face of it, such a statement with regard to one class of soil and climate is absurd, although made,- seemingly, in all seriousness by our informants. We were told that around Port Darwin fruits and vegetables of every kind could be grown in profusion. Yet we were unable to obtain a potato or a cabbage, fruit of any description, a teaspoonful of fresh milk, or an ounce of fresh butter. All such products areimported. One would imagine that if the land is what it is said to be, people who have been there for twenty or thirty years, would have vegetables and fruits growing close at hand. Land values are extremely low ; land can be obtained almost for the asking ; yet there is nothing to indicate an attempt to grow anything. That seems to furnish sufficient proof that the soil is incapable of producing to anything like the extent that some of the inhabitants tried to make us believe. Many things are grown to perfection at the Botanical Gardens at Palmerston; but the ground is in a particularly favorable spot ; - cultivation is carried on under special treatment, and the supervisionof experts. The results thus obtained are no fair criterion of production under normal conditions. With all these disadvantages, I think that South Australia has, in the Northern Territory, more than she can carry. I have no doubt that, if the Commonwealth does not take it over, she will have to let it revert to the Imperial Government, or to New South Wales, to which it originally belonged. I do not think that: New South Wales would be particularly desirous of taking over the Territory once more, and the probabilities are, therefore, that, if it were not taken over by theCommonwealth, it would fall back into thehands of the Imperial Government. South Australia is unable, apparently, to copefinancially with the problem of lack of settlement and the continued annual expense.
– That difficulty could easily be overcome by means of a landgrant railway.
– I doubt it. I do not believe in land-grant railways, and I think that once those who proposed to build such a line through the Territory sent out their agents to spy the land, and to determine its capabilities, the project would be abandoned. With the exception of certain areas that do not lie along the route of the proposed line from Pine Creek to Oodnadatta, I am afraid that the country would prove so disappointing to these agents that’. they would be unable conscientiously to recommend a syndicate to build a railway even on the land-grant system. Pioneering in the Northern Territory has not, as in other countries, been followed by settlement. As a matter of fact, settlement has decreased instead of increasing. With the exception of that of the owners of a few cattle stations, the experience of white settlers who have gone there does not seem to have been such as to induce them to remain, or to get any of their friends to follow their example, and give the country a trial. The further fact th’at even’ the. Chinese, who can live where most other people are unable to eke out an existence, are at last abandoning the Port Darwin end of the Territory, does not suggest that the prospect for permanent white settlement is very hopeful. However, there are many reasons why the Commonwealth should take over the Territory, but there is no reason why, in assuming such a heavy responsibility, as will be the cost of developing the Territory, we should be saddled with the responsibility of entering -into a compact to construct, at an expenditure of millions, railways that will certainly prove unprofitable. The Commonwealth Government should be absolutely free to take over, or to construct, any railways that it pleases. I shall certainly oppose that part of the agreement which binds them to take over certain railways and to construct others which will involve the Commonwealth in an enormous load of expense and annual loss. On the map exhibited in the chamber there is shown the route of a proposed railway, which, to my mind, is infinitely preferable when railway connexion has to be made to the railway which is proposed in this agreement. The railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, that we should be bound to construct if this agreement were accepted in its entirety/ would be of no use to any part of the Commonwealth outside of South Australia.
Possibly, that part running through the MacDonnell Ranges country might be of some advantage to Port Augusta, but . that is a purely local consideration, and offers no attractions from the point of view of the Commonwealth. From the stand-point of South Australia, it is a very good proposition, since it means that she would have constructed through her Territory a railway, only a fractional proportion of the cost of which she would be called upon to pay, and which would give to her alone the benefit of any development that might take place. The whole of that advantage would go to South Australia. To that I should have no objection, for I am not one of those Federal representatives who think that every Federal question should be viewed from the stand-point of their State alone. But, while South Australia may look at the matter from a special State point of view, the representatives of other States, who claim also to represent the interests of the whole Commonwealth, should bear that fact in mind. If the railway is to be constructed, the State which will reap the benefit, if any is to be derived - and that is problematical - should certainly bear the largest proportion of the cost of its construction and maintenance. But I am informed that an alternative line from Pine Creek, which would traverse the northern portion of Queensland, and connect with the State capitals, would pass through country which is really worth developing - country which is well watered and well grassed, and which offers every facility for profitable settlement. This country, I am told, requires only the construction of a railway to enable the products of settlers to find their way to different markets. Such a line, seems to me to be an eminently desirable one, because it can be connected with different ports along our coast at which goods may be shipped to all parts of the world. From Port Darwin, along the north-western side of the coast of the Northern Territory, there is scarcely any shipping, but on the eastern seaboard there are some of the f”est ocean-going services to be found in tue world. Between Sydney and Thursday Island there are quite a number of ports, such as Brisbane, Rockhampton, Townsville, and Cairns, some of which are already accessible by rail, and these ports can readily be linked up with a trunk line’ from Pine Creek. The alternative route would be from Pine Creek to Camooweal, thence to Mount Elliott, thence to Cork, and thence, to Thargomindah. By means of a short connexion from Longreach to Cork, a distance of 150 miles, and another connexion from Wyandra to Thargomindah, a distance of 170 miles, railway communication could be established between Port Darwin, Rockhampton, Townsville, Brisbane, and Bourke; and thence by the main line with Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. The alternative route would continue from Thargomindah to Broken Hill and Port Pirie, and the main portion of the trade - over this line would go direct to South Australia. This route, I repeat, offers facilities for the transit of goods to a number of ports. Such a claim cannot be established in respect of the proposed transcontinental line, which would connect only two ports, namely, Port Darwin and Port Augusta. Under the alternative scheme, a number of ports would be linked up at which steamers are continually calling, and thus cheap freights to all parts of the world would be assured. It seems to me that such a line ought to appeal to our business instincts as the one which is most likely to offer us a profitable return upon our expenditure. There is nothing to indicate that, even in the distant future, the direct line from Port Darwin to Port Augusta would prove a remunerative one. Indeed, it is almost certain ihat a railway from Pine Creek to Oodnadatta would remain a white elephant, if not for all time, at any rate for many years 10 come. I shall certainly oppose that portion of the agreement which pledges the Commonwealth to take over the existing railway in South Australia, and binds it to the construction of the direct transcontinental line. I shall support the amendment of the honorable member for North Sydney, as one which is prompted by business considerations, as weil as a desire to conserve the best interests of the Commonwealth.
– I think that this proposal ought to receive the serious consideration of the Committee, both from the stand-point of the State whose interests are so intimately concerned in it, and from that of the Commonwealth itself. Unless we can see our way to take over this large portion of the continent, with a view to insuring its substantial development, we had better not touch it at all. If we are going to accept the transfer of the Northern Territory we must be prepared to commit ourselves to a large initial expenditure. Anybody who is acquainted with the efforts which have been made by South Australia to develop it must recognise that it would be idle to pursue the lines which have hitherto been followed by that State. Any such policy must spell failure. If we are to succeed, a new and vigorous policy must be initiated,and we must be prepared, not only to incur a large expenditure, but to wait a considerable period before we can hope to receive anything like a fair return upon it. I know that I should not be in order in discussing what has recently taken place in this Chamber, but the Committee cannot shut their eyes to the fact that the Commonwealth has just deprived itself of a large proportion of its revenue - a proportion which is represented by 25s. per head of its population. How it is going to meet that obligation and to incur fresh liabilities in the development of this country is a problem which, I think, we ought seriously to consider. I do not see how the Commonwealth can finance the Northern Territory under the conditions which now obtain. If it attempts to do so the present drift in the affairs of that Territory will only become more accentuated. I have already endeavoured to inform myself as to the conditions which obtain in this portion of the continent. Some two years ago, thanks to the courtesy of the South Australian Government, I was afforded an opportunity of visiting and of travelling over a considerable portion of it. Quite recently, too, I journeyed to Oodnadatta for the purpose of acquiring a personal knowledge of the conditions which prevail there. I am free to admit that the Territory contains a large area of very fine land - land which ought to lend itself to profitable settlement. But it must not be forgotten that it lies in tropical latitudes, and must, therefore, ‘be dealt with from a tropical stand-point. The southern’ portion of the Territory has been pictured as a desert, as a country which may be fittingly described as the “ dead heart of Australia.” Whilst it is true that a large area of it is -by no means firstclass, it certainly does not partake of the nature of a desert. Considerable tracts are capable of supporting population. Appearances suggest the presence of mineral wealth, and there are large areas over which artesian water is obtainable. It must be recognised that these are great aids to settlement. But it must not be forgotten that settlers in the Territory will be confronted by enormous disadvantages, and that whilst suitable land is obtainable in the southern States - land from which markets are more accessible - it must inevitably lag behind. It will be necessary for the Government, if the Commonwealth takes the Territory over, to ascertain how much money will be at its disposal for developmental purposes, and then to decide how to expend it in order to secure the best returns. The South Australian Government endeavoured to develop the Territory in the forty years during which it had control. It made an heroic effort to carry out the task, in the face of great natural disadvantages, not the least of which was the fact that the Seat of Government and settled portions of South Australia were separated from the Territory proper by the whole breadth of the continent. It is not to be wondered at that the Governmental authorities in South Australia were unable to deal with the problems of the North in an effective way. They endeavoured to handle them from a South Australian stand-point, and met with failure. In the document which the Minister of External Affairs has placed before honorable members an effort is made to indicate the reasons which led to the failure of the South Australian Government to settle and develop the Territory. Under the head of general reasons, it is. stated that most of the township blocks and agricultural lands within 40 miles of Palmerston were bought from the Government in the first instance by speculators, who demanded excesssive rents or prohibitive prices from those willing to utilize them. Consequently when the country gave promise of being developed the speculator came along, and became, as elsewhere, a hindrance to the efforts of the Government. That problem, in a most accentuated form, will have to be faced by the Commonwealth, because not only the land around Palmerston, but large areas of the most suitable and accessible grazing areas are held by speculators. There are 82,960,000 acres of pastoral lands held under 259 pastoral leases, with forty years’ tenure, maturing at different periods from 1933 to 1943. I am informed that they embrace the land in the Territory most suitable for settlement, and that one of the great difficulties which the new settler has to encounter is to secure within a reasonable distance of a port land adapted for his purposes. He is forced out into the far distant parts if he wants to obtain a decent holding. In addition, permits are held embracing 112 leases, and covering an area of 21,662,720 acres. These, I understand, carry the promise of conversion into pastoral leases-
– That is not so. The Commonwealth will have a right to deal with them.
– Is.it not a fact that, according to the terms of the leases, the lessees are promised consideration on lines similar to those of the old leases ?
– No. Ever since 1901, we have not granted a lease for more than an annual term, the object being to leave the Commonwealth free to act.
– Those permits represent leases granted . since .1901. The other leases to which I previously referred have been granted for some years past, and embrace the best land. Talk about a pepper-corn rental ! The total rental from, those pastoral leases and permits, which cover a total area of over 103,000,000 acres, is only £8,329 per annum. There are a number of conditions in regard to stocking and improving attached, but their observance is apparently not insisted upon. Another cause for the failure of South Australia to handle the Territory is stated to be the fact that the Government did not keep faith with the original settlers in providing surveys within five years. This led to a great amount of litigation, and ultimately landed the South Australian Government in a loss of £73,000. Another reason advanced is the absence of a bold and vigorous policy in administering the Territory. The Commonwealth must be prepared to benefit by South Australia’s failure in that regard. It must be ready to initiate at once a vigorous policy suitable to local conditions, but that cannot be done without ample funds. The con’ditions that have led to the failure of mining - and the Territory has a large mineral area - are stated to be mismanagement, inexperience, extravagance, and the erection of obsolete and other unsuitable machinery. Those of us who went there saw ample evidence, of that all over the mining fields. Further reasons are lax administration of the law in regard to working conditions, and the fact that the Chinese are permitted to engage in mining ‘pursuits, and tn hold mining leases. The Chinese problem has seriously affected, and will continue to affect, the development of the Territory. There are not above a couple of hundred white residents, all told, as against over one thousand Chinese, in’ Palmerston. The result is that the town presents more Asiatic than European characteristics. Practically all the manual labour is in the hands of the coloured people, and there is no inducement to the whites to engage in it. Only those with capital who are prepared to exploit cheap coloured labour can find a footing there, or obtain conditions that will induce them to settle, and then only to a limited extent. The Chinese are not there to develop the Territory, but are merely birds of passage. Their object is to obtain sufficient money to enable them to return to their own country, and they work upon lines that are utterly unsuitable for the development of the Territory. One of the reasons that have led to failure in the pastoral industry, which ought to be the great standby of the country, and which practically is the only industry in the Territory that has obtained a substantial footing, is stated to have been the speculative gambling in leases which I have already indicated. That problem will have to be handled by the Commonwealth if we want the Territory to progress. As those leases embrace the best and most accessible pastoral areas, the Government must be prepared to compensate the speculators who hold them in order to obtain the right to me the land for settlement. A further reason advanced for comparative failure is that the leases are too large for the lessees to comply with the stocking conditions. In the Territory, holdings are reckoned, not by acres, but by square miles. Another reason set down is “insufficient capital of the lessees, who were too frequently only the nominees of banks und mortgage companies, which charged high rates of interest.” Heavy initial expenses, and the existence of the disease known as red water, are also cited as causes of failure. Red water has seriously affected stations along the Queensland border, and one > of the problems which we in New South Wales have had to face in recent years has been how to prevent its spreading in our territory. Again, the absence of suitable markets for live stock, the great distance which they have to travel, and the want of permanent water in many of the districts, are indicated as the reasons which have led to the failure of the pastoral industry, as compared with its success in other States. So far as agriculture is concerned, the reasons advanced for its failure are - firstly, the sur- vey and subsequent cultivation of land un suitable for the purpose, entailing a loss; secondly, bad management, extravagance, and incompetency ; thirdly, absence of suitable labour ; and, fourthly, want of confidence in the industry on the part of capitalists. One of the great difficulties in the development of the Territory is the long period of the year in which there is practically no. rainfall. That is a matter of very serious consequence with respect to grazing and agricultural pursuits. It is true that rain does fall. For instance, the rainfall at Port Darwin, in 1908, which, I presume, was a fair average year, is given as 61.63 inches; at Brock’s Creek, 53.96 inches ; at Pine Creek, 43.65 inches ; and so on through other centres. Getting further inland, the rainfall dropped. In that year, it was 24.96 inches at Daly Waters, 10.63 inches at Powell’s Creek, 19.12 inches at Newcastle Waters, 17.74 inches at Borroloola, and 21.69 inches at Roper River. In the southern States, such rainfalls would indicate fair grazing and agricultural conditions, and the natural deduction would be that it would be possible to find suitable country and carry on grazing and agriculture at a fairly remunerative figure. But it must not be forgotten that these districts lie within the tropics, and that the rains are practically confined to three months of the year. In 1908, the rainfall at Port Darwin was 10.74 inches in January, 15.47 inches in February, 11.01 inches in March, and only 2.13 inches in April. In May, June, July, August, and September, there was nothing beyond an indication of rain. The record was 3.31 inches for October, 6.13 inches for November, and 12.80 inches for December. So that in this large tract of country known as the Northern Territory, November, December, January, February, and March are the months of the year in which the great proportion of the rainfall takes place, while for a considerable period, notably May, June, July, August, and September, there is little or no rain. That means that graziers have to make special provision for their stock. That does not apply to the southern districts, where, during the rainy months, there is a superabundance of grass. It grows coarse, rank, and tall; but, during the dry months, it retains no moisture, and I am told that it often happens that stock are poor or dying from poverty ; that they cannot be found in the long useless grass ; that, in order to overcome that dif- ficulty, the settlers have to handle the grass in the proper season; and that by burning it off the heavy dews make good the shortage of rainfall in those months. In that way the stock-owners are enabled to provide feed for their stock ; but that requires great care and constant attention. It also indicates that, so far as agriculture is concerned, it must be of a tropical character, and dealt with from that stand-point. These are problems which the settlers have had to face and fight against, and which have militated, to some extent, against the success of settlement. These are problems which the Commonwealth will have to face and find money to overcome by encouraging a class of settlers who will handle the Territory in accordance with its natural conditions. lt seems to rae that one of the essentials far stock purposes in the Territory is the provision of feed, by ensilage or other means, which will enable settlers to tide over a very considerable dryperiod which happens, not intermittently, but regularly every year. That also applies to agricultural land. Again, railway communication must be secured. The Northern Territory is a country of magnificent distance. For days we travelled” over a similar kind of country. The difficulty is to get the crops to anything like a reasonable market. After visiting South Australia, and travelling over the railway to Oodnadatta, I am not prepared to admit that the connexion of that point with Pine Creek is an unsuitable scheme, or that it is unnecessary far the development of Australia. In my opinion, a great deal can be said for the scheme. 1 believe that if the intermediate country is to be developed and brought into reasonable use, an extension of that railway must be made. One of the things I cannot understand is why it was allowed to stop at Oodnadatta for such a lengthy period, instead of being extended to the better country in the MacDonnell Ranges. Those who are competent to express an opinion with .respect to its character say that it is both a mineral’ and a fairly good grazing country, but that its progress is retarded in both directions by .the fact that it has no reasonable means of communication. The only method of communication it has at present is by camels. The necessity of travelling over hundreds of miles of country by that method means that its development must be very considerably retarded.
– Are there not very .great engineering difficulties to be encountered there ?
– No; as far as I travelled the engineering difficulties seemed to be very little. Of course, there may be a few cn route, but nothing approaching to those which bad to be overcome in taking the railway over the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. The bulk of the country to which I refer is as flat as a billiard table, and there are practically no engineering difficulties to be overcome. The probability is that if it had higher mountains it would be richer than it is at present, or is ever likely to be. I am informed that the MacDonnell table-land rises gradually, and that the difficulty connected with bringing a railway into that country is not more considerable than the difficulty experienced in bringing the line from Port Darwin to Pine Creek. If the Commonwealth is to take over the Territory it would be wise to take in the Bill not only the right to extend the railway from Oodnadatta, but also the right of access to Port Augusta and of extension, westward through South Australia if the time should ever come to construct the other transcontinental railway. At the same time, I think that it would be unwise to tie the hands of the Commonwealth Government to the construction of that line at an early date, or prior to considering the question of developing the Territory from” other stand-points.
– There is no date mentioned in the agreement.
– I assume that unless the point is made very clear the people of South Australia will read a date into the agreement and ask the Commonwealth to honour the undertaking which it has made. So far as the establishment of the Federal Capital is concerned, the Constitution did not mention the date when that event should take place, but it was understood at the outset that it should be brought about as speedily as possible, and the people of New South Wales consider that a breach of faith has been committed because a period of practically nine years has been allowed to pass without more than preliminary action being taken. What we want to understand definitely is that like conditions do not apply to the construction of this railway ; that the Government shall have the right to acquire the railway from Oodnadatta to Port Augusta, and to exercise harbor and other rights when they feel that it would be in the best interests not only of the Territory, but also of the Commonwealth to take that course. I am to some extent in sympathy with the honorable member for North Sydney in seeing that no immediate obligation is imposed with respect to railway extension. While 1 admit that a good case can be made out for the agreement in that regard, I think that if a railway is to be of service to the development of the Territory, the alternative lines which have been suggested, notably by Mr. Alexander Wilson . and Mr. Milne, of the Railway Department of New South Wales, ought to be considered from the Australian standpoint, and more particularly from the strategic point of view, seeing that they would bring the eastern capitals and peoples into very close touch with the Territory. According to a diagram showing the comparative distance from Port Darwin to the principal cities of eastern Australia, via Oodnadatta. and Camooweal, compiled to accompany the map suggested by Mr. Alexander Wilson, a railway might well be constructed from Pine Creek via Camooweal to Mount Elliott, the present terminus of the railway from Townsville; then onto Longreach, the terminus of the line from Rockhampton; and thence to Thargomindah, with branches to Wyandra, a point between Charleville and Cunnamulla, on the line from Brisbane, and then to Bourke, on the line from Sydney, and to Torowangi to connect with Broken Hill and Adelaide. This would give easy communication to Townsville, Rockhampton, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide ; the distance to Melbourne being shortened by the construction of a line from Broken Hill to Mildura. Such a railway connexion would not clash with the proposed Pine Creek to Oodnadatta railway, but would open up quite different country. From Port Darwin, via Oodnadatta, the distance to Adelaide would be 1,896 miles; to Melbourne, 2,379 miles ; to Sydney, 2,961 miles; to Brisbane, 3,686 miles ; and to Rockhampton, 4,082 miles. Fancy bringing troops distances like those ! And we are’ asked to consider this proposal from the stand-point of defence. Via Camooweal, the distances would be: To Adelaide, 2,215 miles; to Melbourne, 2,412 miles; to Sydney, 2,238 miles; to Brisbane, 2,104 miles; to Rockhampton, 1,708 miles; and to Townsville, 1,551 miles. All the great cities on the eastern coast of Australia would be in close touch with the Northern Territory if that line were brought via Camooweal, and country which is now fairly well occupied would be still further developed. The Territory, too, would benefit greatly by such railway construction. Why should the Commonwealth tie its hands and, instead of remaining free to construct whatever line it thinks best in the interests of Australian defence and the development of the Territory, be bound to construct a line from Pine Creek to Oodnadatta ? The Commonwealth, if it takes over the. Territory, should be free to develop it as experience suggests. It should not.be committed to a railway following any particular route. Should the Territory be transferred, our first aim will be to prevent the existing retrogression, by making it prosperous. What we desire is to plant there a healthy, thriving community, which will add materially to the welfare of the Commonwealth, and aid in the defence of Australia.
Question - That paragraph b, proposed to be left out, stand part of the clause - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– An effort is being made to set the matter right.
– I wish to explain that I should have voted with the majority had I not arrived at the door just too late. This was due to the fact that the division bells were out of order. They did not ring in the room where I was sitting writing ; hence my absence,
– I move -
That the following words be added to paragraph b : - “ such line not to be undertaken until after the completion of the Western Australian transcontinental railway.”
In moving this amendment I have no wish to adopt an attitude hostile to the construction ot the railway referred to in this paragraph. My object is merely to safeguard the interests of another scheme which honorable members will agree has a prior claim upon the Commonwealth. I refer, of course, to the construction of the Western Australian transcontinental railway. It is curious to notice that in the Bill now before us the railway northward from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek is referred to as the transcontinental railway, whilst the proposed railway connecting the east with Western Australia is not given that somewhat imposing designation. Those of us who have been members of the Federal Parliament since its inception are fairly well acquainted with the history of the Western Australian transcontinental railway, and it is unnecessary that I should refer to it at very great length. Honorable members will agree with me that the proposed railway to Western Australia is as emphatically a transcontinenal railway as is the proposed railway from Port Augusta to Port Darwin, and it has the advantage of being the first transcontinental railway scheme which has been under consideration by this Parliament. I am sure that there is very little doubt that had the people of Western Australia been represented in the various Federal Conventions by as ardent Federalists as were sent to those Conventions by the other States, the Western Australian transcontinental railway scheme would have been included as part and’ parcel of the constitutional agreement. Unfortunately for the western State, it was left out of consideration, I think, for the reason that the majority of the representatives of that State at the various Conventions were rather anti-Federal than otherwise, and did not by any means desire “this connecting link with the eastern States. When the question of Federation was before the people in the western State, it was pointed out by the critics of the proposal that we had no justification whatever for federating, because we had little or nothing to gain from such a step. The people of Western Australia were then assured by almost all the leading statesmen and public men of the eastern States that a transcontinental railway connecting the east with the west would be the very first national scheme of railway construction undertaken by the Commonwealth Parliament. Believing as they did then in the honesty and sincerity of those promises, the people of Western Australia joined the Federation. I say without hesitation that the principal reason which moved the people of that State to give so large a vote as they did in favour of Federation was undoubtedly the understanding that this railway would be constructed within a reasonable time. During the prolonged struggle in this House and . in another place in the passing of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway Survey Bill, we were told that the sum proposed for the work would be found hopelessly inadequate j that the work would be of such a harassing and difficult nature that a great deal more money would be required to complete the survey. Now, we have reports indicating that the work has been completed for less than the sum voted, and that it was, on the whole, work of a fairly pleasant, and by no means of a trying character. We are informed that the country over which the line would pass is fair pastoral country, and in years to come will probably be utilized for settlement. I donot wish for a moment to make any comparison between the western transcontinental line and the northern line. My object is to point out that if we carried the Bill as it stands, the Commonwealth Parliament would be committed to the construction of the northern line. A positive guarantee would have been given that that line would be undertaken, whilst with regard to the older scheme of railway construction, the Commonwealth has given no such guarantee at all. I think it will te admitted that in common fairness to Western Australia, we should have some undertaking that the
Western Australian transcontinental scheme shall not suffer by reason of any undertaking on the part of the Commonwealthto construct the northern transcontinental line. I wish by my amendment to secure to Western Australia that priority in the matter of railway construction by the Commonwealth to which I contend that State is entitled. I wish that the Commonwealth Parliament should be under some obligation to carry out the undertaking which it has practically indorsed by agreeing to the survey of the proposed line. That is to say, that if any transcontinental railway schemes are to be undertaken by the Commonwealth, the right of Western Australia to be linked up with the east is as surely a great national undertaking as would be the scheme to connect Port Darwin with the southern part of the continent. I feel sure that honorable members who have listened to the various debates on the question, can be only of one mind with regard to it. Consequently, I feel that it is unnecessary to labour the point. Western Australia is in this measure, in a sense, left out in the cold. The fairness of placing such an amendment as I propose in the Bill, must be admitted by all. It would indicate that Western Australia entered the Federation in order to be connected with the eastern States by the construction of a transcontinental railway ; that when such schemes are under consideration by theFederal Parliament, that State has the prior claim ; and that, before the proposed northern line is undertaken, the scheme proposed and discussed long before the northern line was brought under the consideration of this Parliament, should be given an indorsement of the character I have indicated. I trust that the Committee will see the reasonableness of my amendment ; that the Government will accept it; and that this concession to Western Australia will find its proper place in the measure now before us.
– I ask the honorable member for Perth not to press his amendment to a division. I think it is hardly fair to put these two lines into competition on the consideration of this Bill. I think it would not be fair to the Western Australian railway to call tor a division upon it in dealing with this Bill. As regards that railway, 1 agree with much that the honorable member has said. I quite agree that Western Australia might never have joined the Federation unless the people of that State had believed that a railway would be constructed connecting them with the eastern States.
– Why did they believe that?
– Because it was represented to them by leading statesmen at the time.
– By the Treasurer?
– Not by the Treasurer only, but by statesmen representing other States. They were justified in believing that, independently of any representations made to them on the subject. At present, Western Australia is as completely isolated from the eastern States as would be an island in the sea. Until the proposed Western Australian railway is made, there can be no real or substantial Federation with that State. The people of Western Australia will not truly realize that they belong to the Federation until they hear the porter going along the railway platform at Perth and calling upon passengers to take their seats for Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane. Until they hear that, they will not be able truly to realize that we are “Australians all.”
– Is that not rather a reflex tion on Western Australians?
– No ; it attributes to them only a natural feeling. I do not think it is fair to put these two lines into competition. So far as the Western Australian line is concerned, the Government have been pushing forward that matter. My honorable colleague, the Minister of Home Affairs, has been forwarding its consideration in every way he could. We have a complete report of the survey of the line, and the estimates of the cost of its construction are now being considered. The question of its construction is being prepared for consideration by the Cabinet as a part of its policy.
-The construction of the line is a part of’ the Government’s policy ?
Mr.GROOM.- Yes, it will be considered by the Government. The honorable member for Perth proposes an amendment which is not consistent with the main principles of the Bill, which is a Bill merely for the purpose of acquiring the Northern Territory.
– Will the Government give me an opportunity to introduce another Bill dealing with the Western Australian railway ?
– I am hardly in a position at this stage to make such a promise.
I can assure the honorable member that the railway scheme he is advocating is being pressed forward, and that he will not help it by putting it into competition with the scheme of railway construction provided for in this Bill. The two railways are really not in competition at all, although both schemes of railway construction may be regarded as necessary to the development of the Commonwealth.
– Will the passing of this Bill in its present form give railway construction connecting the Northern Territory with the south a claim to prior consideration?
– Of course, it will.
– I cannot see how it would. The honorable member must see that even if we acquired the Northern Territory, some time must elapse before we could frame a Constitution for it and a policy for its development. I cannot see how the northern line could possibly be constructed for some considerable time. The other line is a work of pressing importance, and should be gone on with as soon as possible. Its construction should soon be ready for submission. According to the estimates of the engineers it would within ten years be a paying line, and there is every reason why its construction should be pressed forward. In the circumstances, I do not think that it is wise for the honorable member to raise the issue on this occasion. I ask him to withdraw his amendment. I point out to the honorable member that he might invite a vote against the line he advocates by honorable members who in other circumstances would be prepared to support it. His amendment would probably put them in a false position.
– The honorable member must appeal to the Committee for leave to withdraw his amendment, and honorable members might not consent to its withdrawal.
– I am sure that the honorable member for Wentworth will be guided by the good sense which usually characterizes his actions, and will permit the amendment to be withdrawn. I ask the honorable member for Perth, in the interests of the Western Australian ‘ line, not to press his amendment to a division.
– I hope the honorable member for Perth will not yield to Ministerial blandishments. I admit’ that his. task is a somewhat difficult one. He is making an effort to induce the Committee to agree to a course which cannot be successful unless he can break down the Ministerial solidarity displayed by the last division in connexion with this measure. That Ministerial solidarity, despite the very ardent feelings of the Treasurer, is likely to be maintained in the division upon the honorable member’s amendment. I understand that the Treasurer would have been delighted to second the honorable member’s proposition, but the right honorable gentleman was told that he must not do so?
– He was not told anything of the kind.
– I can remember most eloquent speeches delivered by the Treasurer at public banquets in which he spoke almost as if he believed in the construction of the Western Australian transcontinental railway. It is true that it was usually at the conclusion of a banquet, but I give the Treasurer every credit for sincerity in his protestations with regard to that railway. I believe that he is as anxious as is every representative of Western Australia that it should be constructed. I, therefore, suggest to him that, if he wishes to have it carried out, he ought to have provision made for it before the burden of over ten millions sterling, which this measure implies, is imposed upon the people of Australia. Do my honorable friends imagine that the Commonwealth is a sort of milch cow, capable of providing for every scheme which honorable members, with this or that State interest, care to submit ? Our funds are not unlimited, and surely we have a perfect right to consider these proposals in the order of their urgency. That is all that the honorable member for Fremantle asks.
– The honorable member seconded the amendment, and, in a silence which was as eloquent as the speech delivered by the honorable member for Perth, bore witness to the same non-provincial attitude. The honorable member for Perth did not suggest that he wished to pit the Western Australian transcontinental line against the transcontinental line dealt with in this Bill. I should be very sorry to think that the railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie had not greater claims than that from Oodnadatta northwards. It is doubtful whether this Parliament ought to be concerned with railway construction, especially in view of the fact that the Treasurer told the Federal Convention that the people of Western Australia themselves desired to be charged with the cost of their own railway construction, and did not wish the Federation to interfere with it.
– But there are 600 miles of railway to be constructed on the South Australian side.
– The right honorable gentleman did not think of that in the Convention.
– I did.
– If the right honorable member did he kept it to himself. Whatever the requirements of Ministerial solidarity may be, the necessities of his State demand that some such guarantee as that which the honorable member for Perth suggests is necessary if its interests with regard to the transcontinental railway to Kalgoorlie are to be safeguarded. I can assure the right honorable gentleman - and the assurance is one which he, as an old member of this Parliament, does not really require - that he will not have the ghost of a chance of passing through this House a Bill to provide for the construction of the transcontinental railway to Kalgoorlie if we have already saddled ourselves with an expenditure of £10,500,000 in respect of some other schemes. The Treasurer may still be in power, he may still be proposing that railway ; but if he is as earnest and as sincere as I believe him to be, and as the honorable member for Perth and the honorable member for Fremantle undoubtedly are, he will do all that he can, not only in support of this amendment, but to see’ that this Bill is not passed until the Western Australian transcontinental railway is guaranteed before this proposal reaches fruition.
-If he lives he will see it built.
– The honorable member has such infinite confidence in the constitution of the Treasurer himself that he believes that he has to wait, perhaps, only a decade or two to see the Western Australian transcontinental railway considered as a serious proposition in this House. If honorable members believe that it is to be built, it is certainly worthy of consideration so soon as the reports of the survey are before the Parliament. I admitthat the reports of the survey offer greater hope than I had believed possible after a perusal of the Treasurer’s own book in regard to the country which the line will traverse. In that work, he described the country as a dreary wilderness, with danger of death by famishment seriously threatening any intrepid explorer who might venture to traverse its awful wastes. I admit that I was misled by that book, which was written, I am sure, by the Treasurer in a spirit of the utmost modesty after achieving the great distinction of being the first to cross that very desert. The trip therein described must have been made in times of the most severe drought if we are able to gauge the real conditions from the reports of the survey party or vice versâ.. Honorable members will now be compelled to study on its merits the question of a transcontinental line to Western Australia. I am not going to state my attitude one way or the other ; I wish to be in possession of the full facts. But I do say that I regard that line as having an infinitely better chance of being constructed than that through the Northern Territory, provided that such a proposal is put before the House.
– The Northern Territory line will be constructed in sections, whereas the Western Australian line would have to be built from end to end at the outset.
– One section - that to Oodnadatta- has already been constructed, and the yearly loss upon it is very considerable. If the Commonwealth is to be saddled with that yearly loss, it will be less likely to take on the loss that will attach, according to the reports of the surveyors, to the line from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. From that point of view alone, representatives of Western Australia should all be here supporting the honorable member for Perth in his effort to see that the interests of that State are not jeopardized by the actions of the Government.
– They are all present.
– I am glad to hear it. I am pleased that the Treasurer is present, and hope that he will explain the steps he proposes to take to see that some such safeguard as that which the honorable member for Perth suggests, if not that very safeguard itself, is inserted in this Bill to insure that the interests of Western Australia will not be sacrificed to Ministerial solidarity.
.- I intend to support this amendment, believing that it is more important to build a railway from one centre of population to another than from a town like Port Augusta to a place where no one resides. It has been said many times in this House that when Western Australia was drawn into the Federation, she received practically a promise that the transcontinental line to Kalgoorlie would be constructed. If Ave enter into this agreement, the result must be that the Northern Territory line will be constructed before that to Kalgoorlie. Indeed, it seems to me that we should be guilty of a breach of the agreement if we took over the Territory with a condition in the agreement as to the construction of the line from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, if we did not build that railway before constructing that from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. There are so few people resident in the Northern Territory that, even if the whole of them were carried up and down the northern line every week, it would not pay. On the other hand, Western Australia is being rapidly opened up. It has a large population, which is steadily increasing, and is, in short, a magnificent country worthy of every consideration. It ought certainly to be connected by rail with the eastern States. We are hardly in a position to build the proposed railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, in view of the fact that a certain loss would attach to its construction. We ought not to undertake to build it before we have constructed a line that we have had in hand practically for many years. I shall vote for the amendment, and trust that it will be carried.
– The honorable member for Perth, in the opinion of the honorable member for Wentworth, has placed me in somewhat of a dilemma, but I do not think that he has. I agree with the honorable member for Perth, in so far as he believes that the railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta is very urgent. Like him, I am unwilling that any other work should interfere with its construction. If I thought for one moment that these projected lines would be in competition, and that the adoption of the agreement that we are now considering would mean deferring the construction of the railway from Kal goorlie to Port Augusta, it would not have my support. I believe, however, that we should endeavour to do all that we can to develop the interior of Australia, and more especially the central portion of it. Centra! Australia is, undoubtedly, the most difficult territory with which we have to deal. It has many natural disadvantages, and we cannot hope to overcome them and to subdue the country between Port Darwin and Oodnadatta, except by providing means of transit. When this question was before the Cabinet, I felt that whilst the Northern Territory remained unoccupied and unutilized, it must always be something in the nature of a menace to the rest of Australia, and that an effort should be made to develop it. I realized, also, that South Australia was not in a position to undertake that work. I, therefore, supported the Prime Minister in the agreement that he made for the transfer of the Territory to the Commonwealth. The taking over of the railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta was almost an afterthought. I do not know that it was strongly urged upon us by the Government of South Australia, but it seemed to us that if we were to undertake the development and settlement of the Northern Territory, it would be a great advantage to have possession of railway communication with the sea both northward and southward. We felt that if we could secure it, the Commonwealth would be enabled to deal thoroughly with the whole problem.
– Then, the Government propose that we should build the line from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek before the Western Australian line is constructed?
– We do not propose anything of the kind. I am surprised that the honorable member should make such a suggestion. Perhaps he thinks it is a good thing to try to misrepresent me.
– It was the inference to be drawn from the right honorable member’s statement.
– It was not. The honorable member is glad to seek to draw from the statement of one to whom he is opposed, an inference, out of which he can make some political capital. He knows, however, that I have devoted myself for many years to the construction of a railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie in the interests, not only of Western Australia, but of the Federation. As my honarable colleague has said, Federation can never be more than an idea to the people of Western Australia so long as there are hundreds of miles of unoccupied country separating them from the eastern. States, and no means of communication with the east except by sea. We must endeavour to overcome that difficulty. I do not think that West Australians will be acting a
Federal part, or that they will be acting in their own interests by exhibiting a disposition to look after themselves only, and by declining to think of others. I do not see why South Australians and West Australians should not join hands in an attempt to promote the settlement of those States.
– It is wonderful that South Australia did not respect the promise which was made by its responsible men in respect of a transcontinental railway prior to Federation.
– I have a grievance in that connexion, but I do not intend to be always discussing it. Of late years, a new feeling has arisen amongst us -a feeling that we are bound together by common interests, and by sympathy with one another. I believe that a railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie can be constructed at very little cost to the Commonwealth, and that such an undertaking will involve no permanent burden upon anybody. It will pay its own way almost from the beginning. Consequently, I do not see how the transfer of the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth, with a view to its development and the removal of what is now a menace to the safety of Australia, can injure the prospects of the construction of the line which I have so much at heart. After all, many years must elapse before the Northern Territory can be subdued and developed. We cannot build a railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek in a moment. It was never intended that we should complete it immediately. The work will have to be undertaken gradually, and as the circumstances of the Commonwealth permit. Not so the southern transcontinental line. If that line is to be constructed to provide a means of communication between the population of the eastern States and of Western Australia, it will have to be constructed in its. entirety. Otherwise it will prove of very little value. I am not so sanguine as are some honorable members in regard to the success which will attend our efforts to develop the Northern Territory. We shall be shouldering a great responsibility, and I do not profess to see daylight ahead to the extent that some honorable members do. At the same time, it is our duty to make a great effort to develop that Territory. The MacDonnell Ranges country is said to be worth ‘developing, and there is no reason why the railway from Oodnadatta should not be carried thus far. In the same way, the line from Pine Creek might be extended southward to the point at which it would pay, and thus eventually the two lines would be connected. I have made inquiries into the matter, and I am assured that there is a large area of good land to the east’ towards Port Essington - land which it is difficult to develop, but which is capable of great improvement. I ask the honorable member for Perth not to press his amendment. If he does so, I do not think that he will accomplish anygood. I would rather rely upon the sense of justice of the people of the several States than I would insert in this Bill the amendment which he proposes. In the past, I have had some cause for misgiving, but I have always been prepared to trust the people of eastern Australia to help us to secure the construction of the transcontinental line from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. That line, I repeat, will pay its way almost from the beginning, and certainly will not be a permanent burden upon the people. I have no desire to ask my honorable friend to do anything that is opposed to his own interests, but I do not think that his amendment - even if adopted - would have the effect of accelerating this great undertaking by a single day. That being so, perhaps he will accede to the request of the Minister of External Affairs that he should withdraw it.
.- Seeing that the Government have intimated that they share my view that the construction of the transcontinental railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie has a prior claim to any other railway undertaking of a transcontinental character, I do not feel disposed to press my amendment to a division. Under clause 16 of the Bill, Westtern Australia will undoubtedly receive an advantage, in that’ the powers which have hitherto been vested in the South Australian Parliament in respect of all railway construction which the Commonwealth may desire to undertake will be conferred upon this Parliament. We know that in the past South Australia has thrown some obstacles in the way of railway construction through her territory; but, if this Bill becomes law, those obstacles will disappear. In view of the fact that I cannot command the necessary majority, and that the Government have declared that they share my view of this matter, I ask permission of the Committee to withdraw my amendment.
– I object.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Mr. Fowler’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 27
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
– I move -
That paragraph c be left out.
Paragraph c proposes the acquisition of the
Port Augusta to Oodnadatta railway. I had it on good authority that the inclusion of that line in the agreement was not a proposal of the South Australian Government. That has been supported to some extent by the remarks of the right honorable member for Swan. He indicates that South Australia was ready to accept an agreement which did not include the transfer of that line to the Commonwealth. We shall be in rather an extraordinary position if we assent to this provision. As the Min ister has stated, the transcontinental portion of the line may not be constructed for many years, and if it is not we shall be carrying on in South Australian territory, for the use and development of South Australia only, for many years, a railway with a capital expenditure of £2,200,000 odd and an annual loss of some £78,000. That is rather an extraordinary undertaking on our part, and I do not see the necessity of it. South Australia did not see the necessity of it when it began to negotiate the agreement, and the suggestion of the negotiators on the other side, which resulted in the insertion of the provision, was not a good one, or one that it is desirable that we should indorse. Even if the line from Pine Creek to the southern boundary of the Territory were constructed, I see no reason why the Port Augusta to Oodnadatta line should be taken out of the hands of the State. If there is reason for it, we shall be committing ourselves to something very much more serious than we think in connexion with the Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie line when it is made If it is necessary, when we have a line from the northern border of South Australia to Pine Creek, that we should also possess the Port Augusta to Oodnadatta line, it will also be necessary, when the Western Australian line is constructed, for the Commonwealth to own the lines from Adelaide to Port Augusta and from Kalgoorlie to Perth. . I have never heard that suggestion in connexion with the Western Australian railway, and, if it is not necessary in that case, why should it be necessary in this for the Commonwealth to own a purely South Australian portion of the overland line from Port Augusta to Pine Creek? There is also the other objection that, until the transcontinental portion of the line is constructed, we shall be taking over a South Australian line and submitting the people of the other States to an annual loss on it in carrying South Australian trade for that period, however long it may be. While the Committee, by its vote, has undertaken the construction at some time of the line from the northern boundary of South Australia to Pine Creek, this is altogether a separate question. The two things do not even hang together. If we seek an illustration of their want of relationship, it can be found in the illustration regarding the Western Australian line which I have given.
– This paragraph is another part of the whole agreement. The mere matter of the time at which a particular clause was inserted in the agreement does not alter the fact that it forms part of the terms taken as a whole.
– The transfer of this line is to take place on the surrender of the Territory.
– Yes; but paragraphs b, c, and d, although stated separately, really hang together, the idea being a Commonwealth railway line that will run from sea to sea.
– So will the Western Australian line.
– True; but in that case we are not negotiating for the transfer of the whole of the territory to be served. In this case we are offered a large area of territory through which a line has already been partly constructed. In the negotiations our desire was to have vested in the hands of this Parliament complete power to determine the course of the line between the two terminal points, Port Darwin and Port Augusta. But while negotiating to obtain complete control and fix our own route, we had to take into consideration the position of the line from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta. South Australia, acting under a belief which she thought right, began to construct a line which it was intended to run right through the centre of the Territory, as indicated on the map, and has already constructed the portion as far as Oodnadatta. She believed that that line, when completed to Port Darwin, would develop the Territory, and be in the end self-supporting. Now that she has constructed an arm as far as Oodnadatta, we step in and ask for the right to build the line across the continent along whatever route we think necessary. That being so, South Australia might be confronted with a position in which that arm would be useless. She invested a great deal of money in it, and intended it to be part and parcel of a transcontinental system. Obviously, it could not be selfsupporting unless there was some objective further north than Oodnadatta.
– I understand it does some developmental work in South Australia.
– A portion of it does, but the objective was not Oodnadatta. It would never have been built unless the
South Australian Government had had some objective further north. They had, however, the objective of reaching the MacDonnell Ranges, the Arltunga and other auriferous fields, the development of the country to the north for other purposes, and an extension further north still. If the Commonwealth had power to build this line as it thought fit, anywhere through the Northern Territory and through South Australian territory to the sea, it might leave the existing line useless. That would be doing a wrong to South Australia. She would be left in possession of a large arm of railway, which could never be productive unless the Commonwealth itself made arrangements to continue it north. In the circumstances, after considering the whole position, and seeing that whatever line we took north would of necessity be used for Commonwealth purposes at least up to Hergott Springs, we felt under an obligation, in dealing with South Australia, to take over the railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta. By adopting this provision no wrong will be done to the Commonwealth, and we shall be treating the people of South Australia fairly, because by handing over the Northern Territory to us they will be depriving themselves of the right to continue that line to its objective, and so making it more productive. When the route comes to be surveyed, it may be found advisable to continue the railway north from Oodnadatta ; or it may be found infinitely better, instead of going from Oodnadatta right through the MacDonnell Ranges, to go round from Oodnadatta, as has been suggested, towards the Queensland border; or it may be considered advisable to go from Hergott Springs to the east of Lake Eyre.
– Could that line be made?
– It could, according to the information in my possession. The plan, as submitted to the South Australian Parliament by the Government of that State, contemplated the possibility of a line being brought down as indicated on the map which hangs on the wall of the chamber, but of course this agreement does not allow that. They seemed to indicate, however, that if there was any difficulty they were prepared to meet the Commonwealth to that extent. It is suggested that the line could not be taken from Hergott Springs to Birdsville on account of the heavy floods experienced in the intervening territory. When that difficulty was raised, I communicated with the South Australian Government, and received, in reply, from Mr. O’Loughlin, Commissioner of Public Works, the following letter -
My attention has been called to the statements made by Mr. McDonald, to the effect that the route from Hergott to Birdsville is impossible for a railway because of the flood waters of the Diamentina and other streams. I have to inform you that the preliminary survey for a railway from Hergott to the boundary a little to the east of Birdsville which was made by our Engineer-in-Chief’s Department some years ago, and the route of which was shown on the plan forwarded to you a few days ago, traverses a perfectly practicable and fairly favorable route for the whole distance. It crosses Cooper’s Creek at a very narrow part known as the Stony Crossing a little to the east of Kopperamanna, thence it turns to the south and east of the country inundated by the flood waters of the Diamentina River, thus escaping the whole of the flooded country, and. terminates on the boundary between South Australia and Queensland about thirty-five miles east of Birdsville.
If the agreement were modified so as to permit the railway crossing the Northern Territory, there is, according to this report, quite -a practicable scheme from Hergott to Birdsville and thence north. But, as I said, it is an agreement for the construction of a railway to go through the Northern Territory itself. In that respect the criticism which was submitted -at one time in the debate apparently is not correct.
– Would not that miss the MacDonnell Ranges?
– Yes, absolutely. It would tap the western part of Queensland in a line with Charleville. The distance from Charleville would be about 450 miles if that line were continued north.- Then the distance from Longreach would be about 360 miles, and the distance from Cloncurry about 150 miles if these lin-es were extended to meet in the way which is indicated. I have mentioned that merely to show that what the Commonwealth was aiming at was a national line which would go from north to south, and that, as part of the negotiations, it was not just to .the State to leave this portion unprovided. For the reasons I have stated the Commonwealth Government agreed to the acquisition of the line as a part of. the contract.
.- The Minister’s statement lands us in rather a queer position, because he made it perfectly clear that in the negotiations which a previous Government of the Commonwealth entered into with a previous Government of South Australia, it was made an axiom practically of the whole transfer of the Territory that the railway connecting northern Australia with south-eastern Australia should go, at any rate, through Hergott.”
– Not necessarily. I said that a practicable proposal seemed to indicate that.
– What I want to know is, what basis of expert investigation was there for the Prime Minister of Australia, who is not an expert on such matters, or the Premier of South Australia, who knows nothing about the country outside its boundaries, to decide absolutely ex parte as to what was the best route to be traversed by this line?
– But I explained to the honorable member, to prevent such a contention, that the agreement does not provide that it should go through Hergott, but only f tom Port Augusta to connect with the. line to Port Darwin.
– I shall assume that the Minister anticipates that at some period of its progress the line will go as far south as Hergott. What does that mean? If it goes through Hergott, but not through Oodnadatta, it means that the line from Hergott to Oodnadatta is to be run at the Commonwealth expense for the exclusive benefit of the people of South Australia. I do not wish any ill to the people of that State. I shall be very glad to see them get an absolutely fair thing. But is it right that the taxpayers whom we represent here should be called upon to bear a burden exclusively in the ‘ interests of a few squatters? I do not think that there are other persons in the district.
– I saw a Chinese gardener there.
– The whole representation of South Australia is present to see that the Chinese gardener gets a fair outlet for his produce at the expense of the Australian taxpayers.! But when the Parliamentary trip was made to Oodnadatta we were told ?f the immense flocks of sheep which came into that place, presumably to impress itinerant legislators.
– Did the sheep come in on their own ?
– Whether the sheep were brought there from more prosperous districts of the State I do not know, but they were there. Whether they imposed upon Federal legislators I do not know, but we heard a great deal about the productivity of that region. Are the taxpayers of the Commonwealth to be charged with the responsibility of looking after the local squatters ? I sincerely hope not.
– They are friends of the honorable member.
– They seem to be friends of the honorable gentleman, because, so far as I can see, the only party in this Parliament which appears to be almost solid on the question of spending over £10,000,000 on the Northern Territory, and the railways in South Australia proper connected therewith, is that to which he belongs. I can remember most serious strictures being passed upon honorable members who, on non-party questions, ventured remotely to act with honorable members opposite ; but now the Government welcome with open arms all the support which the solidarity party can extend. I congratulate Ministers upon the ease with which they can accept a situation which was formerly denounced among individual members. Honorable members will, I think, admit that, apart from development, one of the essential features of the railway will be the value or, perhaps, the want of value, it will have from a strategic point of view. If we take over the Oodnadatta railway, we shall be practically pledged to a 3 ft. 6 in. line across Australia.From a defence point of view, will it be wise to have a railway with that gauge? Do honorable members know that all the railways of Japan are of that gauge? Let us assume trouble with that power. All that it would have to do would be to bring , rolling-stock and engines and place them on our line, and then a military way would be available. My honorable friends do not seem to have considered this subject at all. They appear to have been quite content to allow the head of a previous Administration to enter into a conclave with the head of a previous Administration in South Australia, and to decide between them an agreement which is expected to bind the intelligence and judgment of every member of this Committee. We have heard the Minister’s reply to some amendments from the honorable member for North Sydney. In each case, he said that if a single feature were altered, it would cease to be an agreement. If Parliament is content to be placed under the whip in this way, it will devolve all its duties and responsibilities upon a few persons who are not responsible to our constituents. What right has the present Prime Minister to demand of any honor able member, excepting himself, a loyalty to this agreement? Has not every honorable member a duty to his constituents to see that their rights are not overridden by such an agreement?
– Some of them did not think so when the other agreement was under consideration.
– I approved of that agreement. A number of honorable members on my side did not share my view, and the Government found no fault with them.
– And afterwards they voted for the agreement.
– My honorable friend is most ungrateful. This is not an agreement entered into by the present Administration. It was certainly signed by the present Prime Minister, but he did not lead all of us then. I can remember honorable members who were then in Opposition denouncing the agreement. What has become of their denunciations? Have the exigencies of the taxpayers altered since that time, or have the exigencies of party government changed in some extraordinary way ? I believe that we owe the same duty to our constituents now as we did two or three years ago. I am upholding the same view now as I did then,and so is the honorable member for North Sydney. Take some of the Ministers who denounced the agreement some time ago. Have not their constituents the right to demand of them as their representatives as loyal an upholding of their interests on this question now as they expected then ? What I object to most strenuously is the way in which this proposal is being log-rolled through the Chamber. We on this side joined together to form a great party. Was this agreement ever considered by its members ?
– I ask the honorable member not to discuss the agreement.
-I am grateful to you, sir, for the latitude which you have extended to me. From the sound of the cheer from the Opposition bench, one might think that the House was crammed with Australian legislators. But when I look round, I find the representatives of South Australia anxious to push through a little Bill in the interests of the squatters of Oodnadatta. I cannot find anybody else here. Other honorable members have the grace to stay away when a compact which, in their hearts, they do not believe in, is under consideration.
– We are only four.
– My honorable friends from South Australia raised a very good cheer. I sincerely hope that the Government will see fit to let the people of South Australia know the real opinion of this Parliament. Some time ago, we sought to have clearly placed before the people of the Common-, wealth exactly how far this Parliament was prepared to go. What did we find then ? We found a Ministry strenuously pledged out of respect to South Australia not to alter an agreement to which the State had put its seal. Is that a fair position in which to place the National Parliament ? 1 do not think it is. Not only we, but our constituents, are entitled to some consideration, but that right is being denied, ls it not an extraordinary thing that the Minister selected to pull this agreement through the House is one who represents an electorate in Queensland. Surely there is no person in that constituency who does not realize that if this provision is carried, its ambitions for the construction of a line between Pine Creek and Brisbane are doomed to utter disappointment.
– That is hitting below the belt.
– I should like to be told why ? The honorable member may know more about these things than I do. The measure is essentially a non-party one, the only duty of the Administration in regard to it being to bring it before Parliament, every honorable member being required to consider, first, last, and always, the needs of his electorate, and the necessities of Australia. Honorable members cannot pretend that they are doing that.
– This is a good, sound, parochial view !
– What does representative government mean if not the representation of electorates by those elected for the purpose? I think that an explanation will Le required by the electors from those who reverse their previous decisions on this question, and I hope that honorable members who have done so will be able to satisfy their constituents that, while paying the keenest and most slavish regard to Ministerial exigencies, they have not overlooked or betrayed the interests of the people.
– It seems to me that an endeavour is being made by the States to put their nonpaying concerns on the Commonwealth, which is being asked to bear their burdens. I have never before seen so much log rolling as there has been in connexion with this Bill. Ministers have been continually buttonholed and interviewed in regard to it. No doubt the same thing will happen again when the Western Australian railway proposal is before us. The representatives of Western Australia will probably then say to those of South Australia, ‘ We helped to carry your line ; you ought to help us now.” A number of honorable members entered Parliament to look after, not the interests of the Commonwealth, but those of their States. This ought not to be the position of members of a National Parliament.
– I suppose the Victorian members an: a glorious exception to the rule ! Had the honorable member been here when the first Tariff was under discussion, he might hold a different opinion.
– The Victorian representatives are the worst of all.
– I do not know, any greater log-roller than the honorable member for Wakefield, who had a great deal of experience in the South Australian Parliament. He is a pastmaster of the art, and is making good use of his knowledge now. It is proposed that we should resume a railway built on a 3ft. 6in. gauge. Does any one think that that would be a proper gauge on which to build a railway to the Northern Territory? How much stock or produce could be carried on such a line?
– How much stock could be raised in Central Australia?
– Taking that view of the matter, probably the gauge would be wide enough to carry all the traffic that there will be for the next fifty years. I should like to know what a cow, brought by rail from the Northern Territory to Adelaide, would be worth on arrival. The suggestion has been made that in times of drought stock would be carried from Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria to the Northern Territory ; but I ask, How would they be fed on the journey, or even watered? It is unjust and unfair to ask the Committee to approve of the resumption of the existing line, or to commit the Commonwealth to the construction of another line. This Government had nothing to do with the original agreement. Why, then, should Ministers press it on the Committee? Recently, when some of the members of the Opposition voted with Government supporters in connexion with the proposed establishment of a Military
College, and on the financial scheme, we were twitted with running over to the Labour party, but on this occasion the Government is receiving the members of that party with open arms. Ministers are delighted to get their votes, in order to “ dish” their own supporters. There are some, however, who would save the country from being ruined, and would prevent, if they could, any absolute waste of money. The Commonwealth cannot afford to burden itself with all these schemes. Honorable members talk about the Commonwealth borrowing, but what will be the value of its credit when it has. handed over most of the Customs and Excise revenue to the States? It is proposed that we shall take over an existing line, build a new line, assume all the liabilities of South Australia in regard to the Northern Territory, and then settle the country. When we have built two railways and the Federal Capital, we shall be in great need of money. I do not know how we shall carry on. Many honorable members regard the problem with a light heart, leaving the future to take care of itself. They will be very sorry, however, that they supported some of the proposals which will be passed this session.
.- The speech of the honorable member for North Sydney is entitled to a better answer than was given by the Minister of External Affairs. The Minister has not rebutted the case made out by the honorable member. Until he spoke I think few members fullyunderstood one of the provisions of this precious agreement. I did not imagine that we were committing ourselves to the assumption of a State railway, to be worked for unnumbered years in the interests, and for the development, of a single State. The proposal is that, immediately on the transfer of the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth, we shall take over and work the railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta. I could appreciate that proposal were it intended to establish a con”nexion with the Pine Creek railway, to fill the gap at present existing, and have through connexion from sea to sea. But we may not build the transcontinental line for a generation to come. It was always understood that the Western Australian transcontinental railway would be made before a line from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, but the construction of the former is not yet within sight. If it is not intended to construct the latter immediately, why take over the line from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta? Is the Commonwealth to create a Railway Department of its own, with a commissioner, secretaries, and undersecretaries, merely to manage and control this railway ? I say nothing against the country which the line traverses; but it is well known that money is being lost on it now, and how can the Commonwealth hope to make it a success? A curious argument of the Minister was that we should not vote for the amendment because we cannot alter the agreement.
– I said that the provision in the Bill was a clause of the agreement with South Australia.
– No doubt, if the agreement be altered in any respect, even by the omission of a comma, it will have to be re-submitted to the Parliament of South Australia; but I am prepared to take the risk. Although the representatives of the State in this Parliament, the Adelaide newspapers, and the members of the State Parliament, say that they do not desire that the Commonwealth should take over the Territory, they are extraordinarily eager for the passing of the Bill.
– Not more eager than the honorable member was for the passing of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway Survey Bill.
– I recognise that the honorable member and his colleagues acted generously in that matter. What I have to complain of is action amounting to breach of faith on the part of the State Parliament and Government. I do not charge the State representatives in this House with being parties to it.
– The present South Australian Government is not responsible.
– Will the honorable member say that the present Government can repudiate the solemn engagements of its predecessor, on the strength of which the people of Western Australia were induced to enter the Federation? I do not know on what advice the Prime Minister and the late Premier of South Australia made this compact ; but, in any case, we must exercise our independent judgment in regard to it, and give the most serious attention to the proposal of the honorable member for North Sydney. In reply to the statement of the Minister of Home Affairs, that we should control the railway from sea to sea, I would point out that it is not proposed that the Commonwealth Government shall have control of the Western Australian transcontinental railway for the whole distance from Port Augusta to Perth, which is a parallel case. The Commonwealth portion of the Western Australian line is not to be on a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge. The people of Western Australia, seeing that the distance to be travelled is so great, expect that a wider gauge will be adopted, to allow of the running of trains at a high rate of speed. Were the Commonwealth Government to make the railway between Oodnadatta. and Pine Creek with a broad gauge, it would be controlling a railway having a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge at each end and a broad gauge in the middle. The Bill apparently makes no provision as to the gauge to be adopted by the Commonwealth in making railways in South Australia. I shall vote for the amendment, and I hope that the Committee, which, curiously enough, is in a frame of mind now differing from that of a few weeks ago, will not allow the measure to be passed without fuller and more exhaustive consideration than it seems likely to receive.
Mr.HENRY WILLIS (Robertson) [8.30]. - I listened with interest to the remarks made by the Minister. The honorable gentleman said that this paragraph is a part of the agreement, and if it is not accepted, the agreement must go. He also said that it is proposed to carry the railway from Port Augusta to Port Darwin, and earlier in the day he made a reference to a line from sea to sea, irrespective of the lines already constructed ; the assumption being that, so long as we made the connexion from sea to sea some day, even if if were not until the crack of doom, the terms of the agreement would be fulfilled. The Minister appeared to be of the opinion that there need be no hurry about it. This paragraph deserves more consideration than the Government seem to have given to it. It proposes the initiation of a railway system under the control of the Federal Government. If it were agreed to, we should require to appoint a railway commissioner with a complete staff, and a staff of locomotive engineers. We should have to make provision, also, for the equipment of the line with rolling stock; because I find that, under paragraph c, it is not proposed that the Commonwealth shall take over the rollingstock on the Port Augusta line. That paragraph reads -
At the time of such surrender acquire from the State at the price and on the terms hereinafter mentioned the Port Augusta railway in cluding the lands now used for and reserved for such railway together with all station and other buildings sidings wharfs and other accessories used in connexion with the working of the said railway, except the railway carriages trucks and other movable plant and rollingstock.
So that everything in the way of rollingstock required to make use of the railway would have to be secured later by the Commonwealth Government. We should require to establish workshops, and to place orders in London for locomotives and rolling-stock, as I suppose the South Australian Government would not have any to spare.
– We should not need to send to London for rolling-stock.
– My point is that the passing of this provision would involve the starting of a locomotive construction department, and the establishment of every department necessary for the working of a railway. A complete Commonwealth railway system would be required to enable us to run a line of railway to nowhere. This Port Augusta railway runs into the heart of a desert, where there is no trade. The trade beyond the terminus is met at the present time by two or three camels. The proposal is really to commence a great railway system which would require a Minister of Railways at the head of it, and the extent of which the Government do not realize. Very many honorable members are, no doubt, favorable to the taking over of the Northern Territory ; but they do not wish to be hampered by the initiation of a great railway policy which the Government at present is quite unable to finance. To begin with, there would be a loss of £100,000 a year on this railway. It is not as if the line were merely a spur. It is 500 miles in length, and the proposal means the beginning of a railway system which will end, I suppose, somewhere in Western Australia, after having taken a run to Port Darwin. The line, though 500 miles in length, is a comparatively short one when regarded as a section only of a line which I suppose will be 2,000 miles in length. It is proposed that we shall take over the present terminus at Port Augusta, with the railway properties there, and the buildings must be maintained in a state of repair. We should have to employ fettlers to keep the line in order. If there had been a full attendance of honorable members, I believe the matter would have been disposed of on the first paragraph of this clause. The Bill involves, not merely the taking over of the Northern Territory, but the beginning of a Commonwealth railway system, which in itself is a proposal, the discussion of which might occupy a. considerable time in this Parliament. As the Government would appear to be determined to carry the matter to a finish, I warn honorable members that the clause with which we are now dealing involves the expenditure of millions of money. We are to begin by taking over a railway which is not paying, and is not likely to pay. It cannot possibly pay, because it runs to nowhere, and picks up no trade on the way. The people of South Australia had a definite policy in the construction of this line. It was their intention to connect it with the line at Pine Creek, but the Minister of External Affairs says that that is not the policy of the Federal Government. Their policy is to fulfil this agreement at some time, but to provide for communication with Port Darwin by dodging round the coast of Queensland for many years to come. Theirs is a go-as-you-please proposal. I hope that the Committee will reject this paragraph, and will ask the Premier of South Australiato retain control of the Port Augusta railway. The honorable member for North Sydney has pointed out that the Government of South Australia are not desirous that the Commonwealth should take over this railway. They see how unwise it would be on our part to take over a line which is at present worked at a loss. The Government of the State should be asked to excise this part of the agreement.
.- I congratulate the honorable member for North Sydney on the way in which he has ventilated this matter. I should like to know if the Government are disposed to accept the amendment.
– I have already said that we are not.
– I wish the honorable gentleman had said otherwise. I should like to know if the Government are prepared to accept an amendment which would have the effect of delaying the taking over of the railway from Oodnadatta to Port Augusta until the connexion between Pine Creek and Oodnadatta has been completed ?
– We could not agree to that. That would be fixing the construction of a line beforehand.
– It seems to me to be an eminently reasonable suggestion.
– It would tie the hands of the Federal Parliament.
– If I may do so, I am disposed to move the omission of the words, “At the time of such surrender,” with a view to substituting for them the words, “ At such time as the Commonwealth shall think fit.”
– The honorable member will not be in order in moving such an amendment, unless the honorable member for North Sydney withdraws the amendment he has proposed.
– They are going to start the railway from Euroa.
– There is no need to be ironical. We are dealing with a very serious matter. This provision involves the creation of a Commonwealth Railway Department, in order that the Federal Government may run a railway within the territory of a State, and entirely in the interests of that State. It is only reasonable to ask that we should defer the acquisition of this property until we have taken such action as would render the line of value to the Commonwealth.
– It would be no longer a State railway if the Commonwealth took it over.
– I quite understand that it would be our railway when we had paid for it; but it would be run by the Commonwealth in the interests of the State.
– If the honorable member will read the rest of the agreement, he will find that there is not the slightest necessity for action until the line is brought southward.
– I find that paragraph e of the clause reads -
Pay the price of the said Port Augusta railway by becoming responsible on the date of the sale and transfer thereof to the Commonwealth -
– It would be merely a nominal ownership, failing further action by the Federal Government.
– I should like to test the feeling of the Committee on the amendment I have suggested, and, in order to do so, if the honorable member for North Sydney will withdraw his amendment, I shall move to substitute the word “ such “ for the first word “ the.”
– I ask leave to withdraw my amendment in order to allow the honorable member for Echuca to submit the amendment he has suggested.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment (by Mr. Palmer) proposed -
That the word “the” first occurring in paragraph c be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ such.”
– I cannot accept the amendment, for it would have practically the effect of negativing the clause. The intention, of the honorable member, if this amendment is agreed to, is to move a further amendment providing that at such time as the Commonwealth thinks fit, the line may be taken over. That will leave the paragraph absolutely indefinite. The line might be taken over tomorrow, or a hundred years hence, and the State would be left in a position of uncertainty. It would not know what its rights were, and would be unable to do anything to the line because of its uncertainty as to what was going to be the attitude of the Commonwealth .
– The amendment does not mean that the taking over of the line should be postponed for all time, but only that it should not be taken over until the line from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek is constructed.
– The proposal is that the State shall be liable to have the railway taken over at any time; when, it will not know. We are dealing with a line that is actually existing, and if it is taken over,the probability is that an arrangement will be made with the South Australian Railway Commissioner to continue to work the line until the Commonwealth shall have developed its own railway policy.
– And we are to pay the annual loss?
– Of course ; why should we not do so?
– It is just as well that that fact should be mentioned.
– It has been known from the first. It is in the agreement, and was mentioned when the second readingof the Bill was moved.
– This is the first time that I have heard of it.
– It is not my fault that the honorable member has not heard of it before. All the facts were fullv explained by me in moving the second reading of the Bill. I recognise, however, that there are very many details connected with the agree ment, and that the honorable member consequently may have overlookedthis fact.
– I think that the honorable member argued against such a proposal when the transfer of the Territory was before the House on a previous occasion.
– The honorable member is in error. I. witnessed this agreement.
– I am referring to a previous proposal.
– At no time have I done what the honorable member suggests. His statement is erroneous.
Question - That the word proposed to be left out stand part of the paragraph (Mr. Palmer’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Dugald Thomson) proposed -
That all the words after the word “the,” first occurring, in paragraph c be left out.
– The Minister of External Affairs has just said that the intention of the Government is that if this railway be taken over it shall be worked by the Railway Commissioner of South Australia, and that the Commonwealth shall bear the loss that will accrue. It is not expected that the line will pay. It is to run for 500 miles into a desert. We shall be debited with the cost of all the railway buildings, the wharf at Port Augusta, and the permanent way, together with the cost of their maintenance ; whilst on the other hand, the State will work the line with her own rollingstock, and arrange freights for the carriage of such goods as may be taken over the line, whilst we will be responsible for any loss that may arise. Are we sane in proposing to give a State a free hand to run a railway in her own interest, while we pay the loss? I should like the Prime Minister to state what is to be the railway policy of the Government. If they have a railway policy, now is the time for them to announce it.
– In view of the division that has just been taken, the Government might very well consider the position of their supporters in regard to this matter. I feel that the honorable member for Balaclava has touched the exact button, and that it would be most unwise, in view of our financial position, to launch out in the manner proposed under this Bill. We are not taking a wise step. A good deal has been said as to the necessity, of taking over the Territory for Defence purposes. It has long remained ir. its present position, and I do not think that there is anything in connexion with the comity of nations to necessitate the Commonwealth embarking upon such a huge undertaking as this. I feel that I shall be compelled to vote against the third reading of the Bill, and I trust that the Government will consider their position in the matter. It is not fair for them to ask their supporters in the circumstances to continue to vote for a Bill of this kind.
.- This paragraph of the clause implies that we are lo take over the railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta at what was its cost price ten or twenty years ago. We do not know what improvements, have since been made to it, and are not to be allowed to take over any of the rolling-stock used’ in connexion with it.
– These are all important points.
– They certainly are. What is to happen when this white elephant of a line to the white ants district is taken over? I presume that unless South Australia has regulated her finances more prudently than other States have done, the cost of the rollingstock used on this line has been provided out of loan money. Probably the Commonwealth will have to pay for it out of loan money raised for the completion of the line. Thus one party to the contract will be insured a capital profit as the result of the agreement, providing that the Commonwealth shall have no rolling-stock transferred to it with which to work the line, even while it has to take over the loans floated to make it a working proposition. Is it to be understood that we are to build new railway carriages and locomotives ?
– If the honorable member will read the agreement he will see that we do not contemplate working the line.
– Then the Commonwealth is merely to be required to pay the overdraft? Is it to be suggested that this Parliament is composed of men who are so destitute of business capacity that they are prepared to sanction the Commonwealth undertaking all liabilities-
– Would the honorable member really like the Commonwealth to have the rolling-stock?
– If we are going to take over the line, we ought at least to be guaranteed that we shall be able to purchase the present rolling-stock at a reasonable price. I admit that we do not know what is the value of that rolling-stock, or, indeed, what is the value of the line itself. Quite recently a number of honorable members visited Oodnadatta upon a week-end picnic. The train in which they travelled was well equipped, 1 understand, but they did not even take the trouble to look out of the carriage windows.
– That statement is not correct.
– I am willing to be corrected. I will assume that there was not a single member of that expedition who was not absolutely conversant with railway engineering, and who did not know, when he looked out of the carriage window, exactly the appearance which a line in a proper state of preservation ought to present 1 I do not suppose that the honorable member for Wakefield has ever viewed a railway from the stand-point of an expert.
– The line is in a very much better state now than it was when it was built. It is 25 per cent, better.
– Apparently it improves with age ! I presume that the rolling-stock has also improved with age?
– The rollingstock is infinitely better now than it was when the line was built.
– Evidently the climate of South Australia has a dry, desiccating effect. It makes iron rails harder and less worn than they were originally !
– There are no iron rails in that line.
– I am informed that honorable members who visited Oodnadatta were conveyed over this 3 ft. 6 in. gauge line at a speed of 40 miles an hour. But I should like to ask them how long the journey from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta occupied ?
– How long does the journey from Port Darwin to Pine Creek occupy?
– That line is within territory that will be transferred to the Commonwealth, and, consequently, I do not grumble about it. But I wish to know what will happen after we have accepted all responsibility in connexion with this line from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta? I am particularly interested in the question of rolling-stock. How do the Government intend to conduct this gigantic undertaking ?
– I would not play the game low down if I were the honorable member. The subject is too serious for that.
– Apparently my honorable friend has changed his habit since he changed his seat in this Chamber. I would remind him that we are not now dealing with the whole liability whiCh the Commonwealth is asked to assume in connexion with this Bill, but merely with the question of whether we shall take over this particular line. I quite agree with him that we ought not lightly to accent the invitation which is being extended to us bv log-rollers, both inside and outside of this Chamber. As has been pointed out bv the honorable member for Robertson in his masterly speech, we have an absolute right to know how this line is to be conducted after it has been handed over to the Commonwealth minus rolling-stock.
– If the honorable member will resume his seat the Prime Minister will reply to the speech of the honorable member for Robertson.
– I understand from a supporter of the Government who never misrepresents the Prime Minister that the latter is prepared to tell us where we are to get the rolling-stock with which to work this line.
– And the money. .
– I believe that the Commonwealth can raise the money.
– What we are concerned with now is getting the permanent way.
– But that is not the only way.
– It is the high way.
– I doubt if it is. This agreement is too serious a matter to be forced through Committee.
– The honorable member should go over to the Ministerial side of the Chamber. He is getting into his old habit.
– I do not propose to delay the passing of this Bill. Since I occupied a seat upon the Ministerial side of the Chamber I have learned the error of roy ways. I will support any reasonable proposal that the honorable member for Robertson can suggest to cope with this difficulty. He has outlined the position very ably, and I think that he ought to frame an amendment to give effect to his desire.
– The honorable member for North Sydney has already submitted an amendment.
– But his proposal will be defeated1 bv a brute majority; by an unholy combination which resents honest criticism. I ask the honorable member for Robertson to draft a further amendment to the clause in the event of the drastic proposal of the honorable member for North Sydney being defeated. Never was a greater wrong attempted upon the innocent electors of Australia outside of “ the rich sheep farming district of Oodnadatta “ than is being attempted in this agreement. It practically proposes to tax the electors for the convenience of a few sheep farmers in_the Oodnadatta district - if any sheep farmers exist there. I understand that when honorable members visited that place a few days ago there were sheep there. Whether they had been brought from Adelaide or from some other district I do not know. But if there are sheep farmers in that locality they are the only persons who will benefit under this agreement.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause (Mr. Dugald Thomson’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … 9
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
.-I desire to move -
That the word “ except,” paragraph c, be left out.
– The Committee has already decided that the whole of paragraph c stand part of the clause.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 15 and 16 agreed to.
Clause 17 (Powers, &c, in relating to the working of railways).
.- Will the Minister state what this clause means?
– It simply enables us to lake advantage of the existing laws in the State of South Australia immediately the agreement is passed.
Clause agreed to .
Clause 18 (Commonwealth bound by State Acts).
.- The side-note to this clause involves a very serious question.
– The first line of the clause, “ Until other provision is made in that behalf by the Parliament,” meets the honorable member’s objection.
– I suggest that the Minister cause the omission of that marginal note, which is very offensive to any Federalist.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 19, and postponed clause 5, agreed to.
Postponed clause 6 (Acceptance of the Northern Territory).
– I do not know whether the Government wish to take a test vote on this clause or on the third reading of the Bill.
– We have already taken a test vote.
– We have taken three; and on each occasion numbers of honorable members have rolled sleepily in without fully knowing what the issue was. We can arrange to take a test vote on the third reading.
– That would be a protest vote.
– I am prepared to protest against the measure inside and outside the House. When the electors know what is being done in this slipshod way, it will be the worse for those responsible for it.
– A test vote could be taken on the schedule.
Clause agreed to.
Postponed clauses 7 to 13 agreed to.
.- It would, perhaps, be more convenient to take the schedule paragraph by paragraph, as it is really the biggest part of the Bill.
– We have affirmed the principle of it in the body of the Bill.
– The schedule is the agreement which binds our taxpayers. The principles which we have affirmed are for the guidance of our Ministers.
– We ratified and approved the agreement in clause 5. This is only consequential.
– I congratulate the Committee upon the ease and indifference with which they can commit the taxpayers of Australia to a liability of £10,500,000, most of it for the benefit of only a small section of the people. I commend that thought to the attention of honorable members who have been treating the matter lightly. I cannot expect to change the course of South Australian members who have a mandate from their own State, which seems to have an idea that Adelaide will, in some way, benefit by the line connecting with that city ; but there are also a number of honorable members from other States who are prepared to enter lightheartedly into the arrangement, little recking how it will disturb the finances of the Commonwealth and strain, almost to breaking point, the wish of the people of Australia to enter into other great projects of national expansion.
– Has the honorable member worked out what the contribution of the New South Wales electors will be?
– Roughly, every inhabitant of New South Wales, man, woman, or child, will represent a payment of about £2 10s., so that a working man in the honorable member’s electorate with a family of five will be expected to bear, as the result of our indifferent and light treatment of this subject, a burden of over £12 1 os.
– I think I ought to vote against it.
– The honorable member has done so, so far; but other members of his party have treated the matter as one which did not seriously affect their constituents. Not only will the Bill kill the legitimate ambitions of the people to start out on great schemes of Commonwealth expansion, but it will absolutely sound the death-knell of the transcontinental railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie.
– The honorable member has done a lot towards helping that project !
– The right honorable gentleman did not do much until he found tlie’ project was popular in his own State.
– I have not to thank the honorable member for anything.
– The right honorable gentleman has a lot to thank me for, because I do not think anybody had read his book until .1 unearthed it. I found that he had written a most engaging work detailing his heroic discoveries in the region supposed to be covered by the railway he was advocating. No member in his senses would vote to commit the Commonwealth to another £4,500,000 or £5,000,000 for the Western Australian transcontinental line after accepting on behalf of the Commonwealth a liability of £10,500,000 at the dictation of a Prime Minister and a Premier who made an agreement in private.
– That is what the Prime Minister and the State Premiers did in regard to the Finance Bill.
– I objected to no honorable member stating his views on the finance agreement. I stated mine. If I agreed with this proposition, I should have no objection to any one else urging the views that I am urging now. Unless honorable members are blind to their duty to their electors, or have given up all expectation of treating their responsibilities seriously–
– The honorable member is talking a lot of rubbish.
– I hope the honorable member is not threatening me with the closure 1 The honorable member told us a great deal about the glorious country we are to take over, and actually produced maps, photographs, and specifications, together with his own prophecies, in the greatest quantity. We offered no objection, as they were highly entertaining. I do not wish to attack the Northern Territory itself. All I am saying is that this Bill has not been properly considered by every member, or thoroughly discussed in this Chamber. A number of- most serious criticisms were directed against it by the honorable member for North Sydney.
– ;No fault lies at the honorable member’s door in that direction. He has done his duty.
– I have not done as much as I should like, but I have tried, and that is more than the vast majority of honorable members can say. They have not honestly tried to stop this iniquity from being perpetrated, and the people from end to end of Australia will be in an uproar when this unthinkable thing passes this House. A number of honorable members are voting for it believing that another place is certain to throw it out. . Why should we always trust to another place? Why not do our duty ourselves, instead of depending upon others to do it for us? It is about time that the people of Australia realized the lighthearted way in which the Committee is accepting a financial burden. Only a week or two ago members of the Labour party, who are now almost solidly in favour of this agreement, explained how straitened the Commonwealth finances would be under the new order of things. They propose to straiten them still further by entering into an unfruitful bargain and encumbering the taxpayers with an obligation amounting to £10,500,000. Are they consistent? Can they go on to a platform and say that all they urged a few weeks ago was urged from conviction or only from mere party ambition ? I think that they should take their consciences before their constituents and provide them with sufficiently strong microscopes to enable them to decide upon their conduct all through this business..
Question - That the schedule be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 18
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Schedule, preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment ; report adopted.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s Message) :
Motion (by Mr. Groom) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to provide for the acceptance of the Northern Territory as a Territory under the authority of the Commonwealth and for the carrying out of the agreement for the surrender and acceptance.
Resolution reported and adopted.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers : -
Customs Act 1901 - Regulations under (Consolidated) Statutory- Rules 1909, No. 126.
Census and Statistics Act -
Population and Vital Statistics. - No. 16 -
Quarter ended 30th June,1909.
Trade, Shipping, Oversea Migration, and Finance - No, 32 - August,1909.
Shipping and Oversea Migration, 1908.
Trade and Customs and Excise Revenue, 1908.
– I am under the impression, sir, that some time ago you made a promise to the House that you would see that statutory regulations were issued immediately after they were tabled. But this morning I found in my box some regulations which came into operation on the 15th or 16th October. Of course, it is not possible for an honorable member to object to any statutory regulations until he knows their contents. WhenI received the statutory regulations this morning it was too late for me to object to any of them, and I desire to know, sir, what action you have taken in the matter.
– The issue of statutory regulations depends upon the Minister of the Department in which they are made, and I understood that in all cases they would be laid before the House in time to be dealt with by any honorable member. I shall make further inquiries into the matter, and inform the honorable member of the result of them to-morrow morning.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from11th November, vide page 5744):
Clauses 1 to 16 agreed to.
Part X. - Voting by Post.
Clause 17 -
The whole of Part X. of the Principal Act is repealed, and the following part substituted in lieu thereof : - “ Part X. - Voting by Post. “ 109 - (1) An elector who -
has reason to believe that he will not during the hours of polling on polling day be within seven miles of any polling place…… may make application for a postal vote certificate .
.- With regard to the provisions for voting by post, in my speech on the second reading of the Bill I raised certain points which, so far as I know, the Minister has not replied to.
I pointed out that the identification of an applicant for a postal voting form is made easier by this clause. Previously, the witness has not been required to know the applicant for a form, but, under proposed new section 1093, he must be satisfied as to his identity. I am opposed to the provisions for voting by post, but I realize that there is very little chance of inducing the Committee to abolish them. If anything can be done to curtail it, I shall support an amendment in that direction. The opinion of the Committee regarding voting by post should be definitely tested. A number of honorable members object to the continuance of the present system, and if any one moves to abolish it I shall support the amendment.
. -With a view to testing the feeling of the Committee as to the retention of postal voting, I move -
That the crossheading “ Part X. Voting by post “ be left out.
I shall not occupy time discussing the matter, because it has already been debated very fully. It has been proved, not only that the system is open to fraud, but that fraud has been so common under it that a change should be made. 1 am surprised that any objection should be raised to the abolition of voting by post. It is not my wish to disfranchise any elector, but we should not allow wholesale abuses to exist merely to give a few electors the opportunity to exercise the franchise.
Mr. FULLER (Illawarra- Minister of Home Affairs [9-48]. - Practically the whole of the adverse criticism which was directed against the Bill on its second reading was in regard to the provisions dealing with voting by post. Little material change is proposed in this direction, but the wording- of the clauses has been altered to make the provisions clearer to the public, and stricter, with a view to preventing fraud, while the classes of persons who may witness postal voting have been added to. As to the matter brought under my notice by the honorable member for Yarra, the opinion of the officers of the Department is that it will be advantageous to require the witness to satisfy himself as to the identity of the applicant instead of requiring him to declare that the applicant is “ personally known to the witness,” which has frequently led to confusion. I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh that it is unneces sary to repeat now the arguments which have been used both for and against the system of postal voting, the matter having been so thoroughly discussed. No doubt abuses have occurred, but no system is perfect, and, as has been pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition, postal voting is a corollary to universal suffrage. The honorable member for Hindmarsh, has himself informed us that postal voting was originally instituted to meet the case of shearers, seamen, and other persons who, to earn their livelihood, must frequently absent themselves from the divisions for which they are enrolled. lt also meets the case of those who are sick, more especially the women electors, who now enjoy the same franchise as the men. I do not think that any one would wish to deprive the sick, especially women, of the right to exercise the franchise. But, whilst 1 wish to retain postal voting, I am not disposed to extend the principle, and shall, therefore, oppose the amendment suggested by the honorable member for Balaclava, which would give every woman, whether ill or not, the right to vote by post. I am surprised that the abolition of postal voting should be proposed by a member of the Labour party, seeing that the system originated with that party, and is of advantage chiefly to electors who might be expected to support it.
– We have now the absent voters’ provision. I prefer that persons voting out of the divisions for which they are enrolled should go before returning officers rather than that ballot-papers should be taken to private houses.
– I hope that there will be no delay in taking a test vote on the question. We shall very soon have an election, and to carry out the provisions of the Bill it will be necessary to call together and instruct the returning officers, who, in turn, must instruct their assistants. Much work must be done to get everything ready. The measure is merely a machinery Bill, having no party significance, and I trust that when the matter which has chiefly provoked comment has been disposed of, honorable members will assist to pass it speedily.
.- What the Minister has said in favour of postal voting was said in its favour in the Queensland Parliament, where it was, nevertheless, thought better to abolish the system altogether than try to amend it, because it was seen clearly that, if it were continued, abuses were bound to continue. Abuses must creep in under our provisions for postal voting, if we retain them ; no machinery that we can provide will prevent some persons from acting improperly. Whilst I feel that the Committee is not in favour of the abolition of postal voting, I should like to have a test vote on the subject. The abuses which came under my notice in Queensland, to which I have already referred, were such as to convince me that, do what we can to safeguard these provisions, our intention will be frustrated. The measure is a better one than we have yet passed, but the Minister would do well to allow us to strike out the postal voting provisions.
M,r. AGAR WYNNE (Balaclava) [9.58]. - The Minister has declared himself opposed to my suggested amendment before hearing my reasons for it. Under such circumstances, a member has not much chance of gaining his end. In the cities and large towns, women have ample facilities for voting, and there is comparatively little trouble in going to the poll. But in the country districts there are many struggling selectors, and often both husband and wife cannot leave the home together. If the husband goes, the wife must remain to look after the children. Very often a considerable distance has to be travelled to reach a polling booth. In what is now the electoral district of Corangamite, it once took me eleven hours to ride on horseback from one town to another, a distance of 19 ‘miles. People living in some parts of that country would take six hours to get to the nearest polling booth. They might have to climb a range 400 or 500 feet high, and when they got to the bottom of it on the other side they would find themselves in a morass, -where their horses would be up to their girths in the_ mire. Having got through the morass they would have to climb another range. It is more difficult to travel 5 miles in some of the country districts than it is to travel 20 miles along a level road.
– The honorable member forgets that the elections will be held in fine weather.
– That will make no difference. There is a rainfall of 45 inches in the Otway Forest, and the settlers in that district will have great difficulty in getting to the nearest polling booth. The desire of Parliament is that every man and” woman in the Commonwealth shall have the right to vote, and yet some honorable members would debar the unfortunate people who are settled in some districts from the exercise of that right, because they happen to live 3 or 4 miles from the nearest polling booth. At the same time they are willing to give every facility to people living in towns, although they can make use of trams, motor cars, and cabs, and would have no difficulty, even if they were required to walk, in getting to the nearest polling booth.
– Is the honorable member aware that at the last Federal election there was a larger percentage of country votes than of city votes polled throughout the Commonwealth.
– I do not know whether that statement is correct or not; but it does not affect the question. I believe that under this Bill, unless further facilities are afforded, many country electors will , find it impossible to record their votes.
– How would the people to whom the honorable member refers secure witnesses for their ballot-papers?
– They would have a week or ten days in which to do that.
– Witnesses are required, not merely for applications for postal voting certificates, but for postal ballot-papers, and they will hardly be found except in the vicinity of a polling booth.
– The list of authorized witnesses has been extended under this Bill, and as the result of the extension of our State school system it may not be difficult to get a person to witness an application for a postal voting certificate; but I think that every facility should be afforded to women in the country to vote by post. The Minister was prepared to say that he could not accept my amendment before he listened to the reasons in support of it. That seemed to me to be a strange stand for the honorable gentleman to take with regard to a proposal made by either a supporter or opponent of the Government.
– I heard the honorable member’s references to the Corangamite electorate on the second reading of the Bill.
– The honorable gentleman had not heard the reasons which I have given now. I do not see why country people when they are given the right to vote should not be provided with “the necessary facilities to enable them to exercise that right.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill (Mr.
Hutchison’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the words “ has reason to believe,” line 6, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ declares.”
Under the Bill, any elector who says that he has reason to believe that he will not be within 7 miles of a polling place on the day of election is given the right to vote by post. I desire to provide that only those who are really 7 miles from a polling place on the day of election shall be given that right. I think that if an elector is willing to declare that he will be 7 miles from a polling place on the day of election, he should be allowed to vote by post. I ask the Minister if he will accept this amendment. I believe it will carry out the intention of the Bill. As the clause stands, it is altogether too wide. Any person may say that he has reason to believe that he will be 7 miles from a polling place on the day of election ; but 1 think he should be absolutely certain on the point before he should be entitled to apply for a postal vote certificate. The clause as it stands will involve an enormous amount of unnecessary work, and will leave the door open to the perpetration of fraud. Some of the frauds practised at a recent election in South Australia were rendered possible by the existence of the postal voting provisions of the law. I do not wish to labour the question ; but I do not think that all and sundry should be at liberty to take advantage of the postal vote.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh mentioned his amendment to me a few moments ago, and I think I led him to believe that probably I would be prepared to accept it. But, on thinking the matter over, and looking through the following clauses it occurs’ to me that a person applying for a postal vote certificate might not be in a position when he made the application to swear that, during the hours” of polling, he would not be within 7 miles of a polling place. If the honorable member will look at sub-section 4 of proposed new section 109, he will find that a penalty <“f £50, or one month’s imprisonment, is provided for a false declaration under this clause. That neutralizes, to some extent, the honoraBle member’s statement as to the wideness of this provision.
– -Who is to enforce the penalty?
– I remind honorable members also that sub -section 3 provides -
In the case of an application under paragraph a the applicant must state in the application his reason for his belief.
He has not only to say that he has reason to believe that he will be 7 miles from a polling place on the day of election, but he must give the reason for his belief ; and if the reason given is a false one, he will be liable to a penalty of £50, or to one month’s imprisonment.
– It would be practically impossible to prove that the reason given was false.
– I think that the clause is sufficiently safeguarded by the penalty provided for a false declaration in an application for a postal vote certificate.
– No safeguard at all is provided. The Minister will see that an elector would have no difficulty in getting over the provisions to which he has referred. It would be the simplest thing in the world for him to state the grounds on which he believed he would be absent. I could find fifty excuses without the slightest difficulty for a belief that! I might not be within 7 miles of a polling place on the day of polling.
– What does the honorable member want?
– I want to make sure that no person will be able to obtain a postal ballot-paper unless he can positively say that on the day of polling he will be not less than 7 miles from a polling booth.
– What amendment does the honorable member suggest?
– I suggest that we provide that an applicant for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot-paper must declare that he will not he within 7 miles of a polling booth on polling day.
– That will not make the position any better.
– The words “reason to believe” are indefinable, and no conviction could be obtained under the provision as it stands.
– But a statutory declaration must be in regard to a fact of past knowledge, and not as to the future.
– If the Minister, or the honorable member can suggest a better word than “ declares.” I shall be prepared to accent his suggestion. All that I want to provide is that a postal vote certificate and postal ballot-paper shall be issued only to a person who will really be not less than 7 miles from a polling booth on polling day.
– I refer the honorable member to sub-sertion 3 of proposed new section109.
– Under that, the applicant must state the reason for his belief. A reason maybe advanced that may appear sound in a Court of Law, although it is not a good one. A man who will commit a fraud under the Electoral Act will . readily find a reason for asking for a postal vote certificate. Fraud is constantly occurrine in connexion with postal voting, not in one State, but in every electorate throughout the Commonwealth.
– A man who would not be particular about giving reasons would not be too particular about making a declaration.
– But if I discovered that a person who had declared that he would not be within 7 miles of a polling booth on the day of election, and had therefore obtained a. postal vote certificate, was within that distance, I could secure a conviction.
– I think that I could. On the other hand, if he had obtained a postal vote certificate merely because he had stated that he had “ reason to believe “ that he would not be within 7 miles of a polling booth, it would be impossible to secure a conviction. Our legislation is loose enough as it is.
Mr.Dugald Thomson. - There is far greater danger in connexion with the use of Q forms.
– Hundreds of cases of fraud occur, and we ought to do everything possible to safeguard this provision. I shall persist in my. amendment, but may be able, during the discussion, to think of a better word than “declares.”
– In addition to the provisions to which I have already drawn attention, I would bring under the notice of the Committee, proposed new section 109B.
An authorized witness shall not witness the signature of any elector to an application for a postal-vote certificate and postal ballot-paper unless -
Penalty : Fifty pounds, or one month’s imprisonment.
There seems to me to be abundant safeguards.
.- A question that has previously been raised occurs again in connexion with this provision. Here we have provided a penalty of £50, or one month’s imprisonment, for a breach of proposed new section 109, and I desire to know who is to take action against an offender. From time to time, there has been brought before the Minister of Home Affairs evidence sufficient to establish a case and possibly to secure a conviction under the Electoral Act, yet it has been found impossible to induce the Minister of the day to take action. I want the Minister to pledge, not himself, but his Department to take action instead of leaving it to some private individual to do so, if evidence is forthcoming to sustain a prosecution. Unless that is done, all these penalties will not be worth the paper they are printed on. There will be no occasion for an offender to attempt to get round the provisions of the Act, for no prosecution will be instituted. .
– Action can be taken “ by the person affected.
– The responsibility should rest, not upon him, but upon the Department. If Parliament passes an Act providing certain penalties the Department concerned should see that it is observed.
.- I do not think that even, such a promise as the Minister has been asked to give would carry us much further. There is little doubt that no amendment that the honorable member for Hindmarsh could suggest would meet the difficulty. That may be said to be an argument against the principle of voting by post ; but even if a man declared that he would not be within 7 miles of a polling booth on polling day and were found to be within that distance, no Court would convict him of perjury. The Court would say, “ We are here, not to deal with prophets, ‘but with a man’s knowledge, at the time he makes a declaration, as to established facts and not as to what will happen.” A declaration as to what may happen becomes a matter of intention, and the complainant would have to prove that the offender in making the declaration had in his own mind a false intention. That it would be almost impossible to establish. Having been defeated with regard to his proposal to do away with voting by post, the honorable member for Hindmarsh is now making what is really another attack upon that principle.
– No; I am seeking only to prevent those who should not enjoy the right of voting by post from obtaining it.
– If we allow voting by post we cannot stop a man from making a false declaration, or from acting fraudulently in any other way. A promise to prosecute on the part of the Minister would be of no use. No Attorney-General or
Crown Solicitor would say that a conviction would be possible under this provision, strengthen it as we may, if the case related to a declaration made as to a future contingency.
.- The point raised by the honorable member for Herbert as to who is to initiate a prosecution is an important one.
– I presume that the person affected would do so.
– A person may lodge an objection, but a certain deposit must accompany it. It is the duty of the Department to administer its own Act. There is no other Act of which I know that is not administered by the Department to which it. relates.
– Take the Customs Act, for instance.
– I was about to refer to it. Would any one say that if a person knows that a fraud is being committed on the Department of Trade and Customs, he, and not the Department, must take action? We ought certainly to hear from the Minister as to whether the whole measure, so far as its penalties are concerned, is to be a dead letter. If the initiation of a prosecution is to be left to the person affected, what will be the position ? We might have wealthy individuals making bogus complaints against poor men who would not be able to obtain money for the defence of a person charged with an offence under the Act. A poor man .would have no redress. Another point worthy of notice is that we are now asked to deal in. globo with about four pages of amendments of the principal Act.
– They are really not amendments.
– They have to be compared carefully with the original Act in order that one may determine to what extent the Act will be amended by them. Each proposed new section should be taken separately. I ask the Minister to reply to the complaint raised by the honorable member for Herbert. If my memory serves me rightly it was in connexion with the first re-election for Melbourne that a justice of the peace who happened to be the secretary of a trade union was alleged to have witnessed the signatures of applicants for postal vote certificates, although he had not seen the persons concerned. The law was put in motion against him, but when complaint was made on the other side no action was taken. Is the law to be so administered in the future? If it is, then we might as well wipe out the whole of these penalties and give every man a free hand to do as he pleases so far as the electoral law is concerned.
– While there may be some difficulty associated with the insertion of the word that I propose, I am sure that the AttorneyGeneral could if he wished draft an amendment to meet the object that I have in view. The more we look at the safeguards to which reference has been made by the Minister, the more ridiculous do they appear. He asked us to recollect that, under paragraph c of proposed new section 109B, an authorized witness would not be permitted to witness an application for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot-paper unless he were personally acquainted with the facts, or had satisfied himself from inquiry of the applicant as to the truth of the statements contained in the application! What an absurdity is contained in that provision ! It merely provides that an authorized witness shall accept the statement of an individual who may be making a false declaration. When we come to deal with that portion of the Bill, I shall submit an amendment to it. It is a fair thing that an authorized witness shall make himself acquainted with the facts before he attests any application for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot-paper. I entirely agree with the remarks of- the honorable member for Yarra. If there be one Act which the Government ought to see is properly administered, it is the Electoral Act. Breaches of that Act have far more reaching consequences than have breaches of the Customs Act, and yet, as we know, no breaches of the latter statute are countenanced. We ought to insure that only persons who are entitled to receive these postal ballot-papers shall be able to obtain them. I recognise that under my amendment there would be a difficulty in prosecuting offenders. I would ask the AttorneyGeneral whether, if the words “ has reason’ to believe that “ be omitted from paragraph a of proposed new section 109, a person who has obtained a postal vote certificate anc postal ballot-paper, and who, upon polling day, is found within 7 miles of any polling place for the division for which he is enrolled, can be prosecuted and punished?
– No doubt he can be prosecuted, but he cannot be punished.
– If that be so, we may as well allow the Bill to remain in its present form, because we shall have no means of punishing a person who makes a false declaration.
– I do not think that the honorable member’s amendment, if adopted, will help him a bit. The honorable member for Corio has very properly pointed out that Courts do not convict men who express opinions regarding something which may happen in the future. If the proposal of the honorable member for Hindmarsh be agreed to, it will be construed as meaning that an elector believed that on polling day he would be 7 miles distant from any polling place for the division for which he is enrolled. The Courts will not convict a man for making a declaration to-day regarding something which may happen a fortnight hence. This is not a clause under which prosecutions will be frequently initiated. ft is a provision which really contains its own check against abuses. If honorable members will turn to the list of authorized witnesses, they will see that the latter consist of men of some standing. Fairly onerous duties are cast upon them, and one of those duties is to acquaint themselves with the facts stated in the application, so far as they can do so. That provides a guarantee of the bona fides of any applicant for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot-paper. I repeatthat the Bill contains precautionary provisions against abuse.
– The authorized witness and the applicant in case of fraud will be permitted to go free.
– There are not many cases in which a conviction could be secured.
– A conviction would never be-secured, because the Department would not prosecute.
– I am merely dealing with the facts as they stand. The point has been raised as to whether an undertaking should not be given that, in all cases, the facts should be brought before the Court. If a clear case of fraud can be made out, the Department will prosecute; but no Minister can bind his successors to undertake a prosecution in every case in which representations as to a breach of the law are made. In some cases, prosecutions are conducted by the States, and the same course will be adopted by the Commonwealth. But I would point out that it also rests with the candidate to accept some responsibility in this matter either by bringing breaches of the Act under the notice of “the Department, or by instituting a prosecution himself.
.- I think that the whole of this provision has been somewhat loosely drafted. lt is foolish to require that an elector must have reason to believe that he will be more than 7 miles distant from a polling place for the division for which he is enrolled before he shall be entitled to make application for a postal vote certificate and postal ballotpaper. Many men would not care to walk 7 miles to a polling place and 7 miles back in the heat of summer. I think that the limit should be fixed at 3 miles. It would be very hard indeed if electors who applied for postal-vote certificates and postal ballotpapers were required on polling day to transport themselves 7 miles distant from a polling booth in their division, in order to save their skins. ‘ Then, I fail to see why a distinction should be made between a woman who, on account of ill-health, is unable to attend a polling place on polling day, and a’ woman who is prevented by “’ serious “ illness from attending to record her vote. I cannot understand why the use of the adjective “ serious “ is required in paragraph c. If an elector be ill, he or she should not be “expected to record his or her vote at the polling booth. The whole provision is very unsatisfactory.
House adjourned at 10.42 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 November 1909, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1909/19091116_reps_3_53/>.