7th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– This morning’s Argus, referring to a debate in this House last night, says -
When the result of the division had been announced, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) asked Mr. Hughes across the table: “ Shall we ever have a chance of a vote on the main question of the appointment of a . Commission.” “ I will provide a day for you to discuss Dr. Mannix and Critchley Parker any time you like,” was Mr. Hughes’ reply.
Is that a correct report of the reply of the Prime Minister?
– The report is incorrect.. I told the honorable member that I would not grant a day.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that certain newspapers printed and circulated in Great Britain - notably the Nation and the Labour Leader - are refused admission to this country? Does he approve of discrimination against Australia and other Dominions in this matter?
– I was not aware that these newspapers are not admitted into Australia. It may be that they fall within the class of journals which publish statements tending to seriously prejudice recruiting.
Mr.brennan. - Then why is their circulation allowed in England?
– They have conscription in England.
Mr.archibald. - And Zeppelins.
– The Nation I believe to be the organ of what may be termed the revolutionary, as distinguished from the nationalist, party in Ireland, and the Labour Leader represents that section of the Labour party in Great Britain which finds its protagonists in Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and Mr. Snowden, and I cannot conceive anything more cal culated to prejudice the interests of Australia and the Empire than the utterances of those two gentlemen.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to make a statement as to when our shipbuilding industry will start?
– I think that Thursday next is the date fixed for receiving the replies of the various unions that have been consulted. Yesterday was the day fixed originally, but the engineers asked for an extra week, because they found it necessary to take a ballot on the questions submitted to them. I have advised all the States of the position, and, in anticipation of the acceptance of our proposals by the unions, requested them to clear what slips they have, or in the case of existing slips that are not suitable for the class of vessel to be laid down, to make such alterations as may be necessary. Preparations are also in hand for procuring and storing material needed in the earlier stages of -shipbuilding. In short, all the preliminary steps are being taken in the expectation that the unions will co-operate, and when the favorable deci- . sion of the unions has been received, the enterprise will be launched immediately.
– What guarantee has the Prime Minister received from the unions that they will perform what they promised? The other day their representatives refused to take the word of the right honorable gentleman; why, then, should he take their word?
– I have, and can have, no other guarantee than the recognition by the men that their interests are as much involved in this matter as are those of the community generally. No one can justly accuse me of building extravagant hopes on arrangements with organized labour because I know from long experience that in every union there are foolish persons ever ready to counsel ill-advised courses, but I am satisfied that if the unions accept our proposals they will do so with a clear understanding of what is involved, and that there will be no organized- departure from any of the terms of an accepted agreement. Were I a private employer I should, on the acceptance by the unions of the Government’s proposals, embark on the enterprise confident that nothing in the way of labour troubles need be feared. I cannot, of course, guarantee that there will be no departure from the agreement, if made/ but’I have never known men to give more serious consideration to a project, or to be more in earnest in wishing to cooperate, than were those with whom I conferred in regard to this matter.
– What Department will control the shipbuilding industry ?
– The vessels to be constructed are to be standardized, and the industrial conditions to be observed during their construction will be the same in the Commonwealth, the State, and private dockyards. Ships under construction in. the Commonwealth dockyards will, of course, be under the control of the Minister for the Navy, the others will be under State or private control, subject to a general supervision, for which I shall be responsible. The Minister for the Navy reminds me that we are now settling the industrial conditions, arranging for the supply of materials, preparing slips, and taking other preliminary steps.
– If the proposal does not bear fruit, will private shipbuilders be allowed to undertake the construction of the necessary vessels?
– Any one may build under the conditions when we have settled them.
– The State authorities and private individuals will be virtually contractors for the carrying out of our work, and we shall see that the industrial conditions as stated in the agreement are observed and that the vessels are constructed according to specification .
– Yesterday, the honorable member for Parkes asked a question about the collection by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department of duty on catalogues. I am informed that section 35 of the Customs Act provides that -
Goods imported through the Post Office shall be subject to the control of the Customs equally with goods, otherwise imported.
Catalogues and circulars are specifically provided for in the Tariff. If imported from the United Kingdom, these goods are subject to duty at the rate of 8d. per lb. or 35 per cent., whichever rate returns the higher amount, and, if from other countries, at the rate of10d. per lb. or 40 per cent. The volume which I hold in my hand is a sample of some of the catalogues that are sent through the post. Many of them weigh as much as 12 or 15 lbs. each, and are expensively and beautifully got up. It is because of their great weight, and because they are taxable under the Customs Tariff Act, that the Postal Department is taking the action complained of.
– Is it not a fact that for some time past these catalogues have been sent direct to clients in Australia instead of through agents, the manufacturer thus saving postage?
– As the subject is rather intricate, I ask the honorable member to put his question on the noticepaper.
– What is referred to is an ordinary business course.
– No, it is not. I know what is going on.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What are the details of the arrangement made by the Government with Messrs. Whiddon Bros. Ltd.,Relby-lane, Sydney, and the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company Ltd., 62 Pitt-street, Sydney, to share in . the profits accruing from theexport of wool tops?
– The Wool Committee has been asked to supply the information, but it is not yet to hand.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
How many pounds of wool tops on which bounty was paid were exported from Australia to Japan during the period from 1st January, 1908, to 31st December, 1915?
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether, in order that members may give proper consideration to the proposals of the Government, as announced in connexion . with the War-.time Profits Tax Assessment Bill, he will state what increases the Government intend to propose in the rate of income tax?
– This, and all other similar matters, will be dealt with in the Budget.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he will order that a return be prepared showing -
Storage in Australia;
The time the fruit has been in storage?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What is the reason that local entertainments held by farewell and reception committees are brought under the Entertainments Tax Act, seeing they are purely for the benefit of soldiers going to and returning from the front?
– The Acting Commissioner of Taxation states that -
Any entertainments which are held by public committees for sending off or welcoming home soldiers are being treated as exempt from tax under section 13 of the Act, when the expenses of the entertainment do not exceed 50 per cent, of the receipts; also, that such entertainments are exempt from tax under section 12a of the Act, if the whole of the takings are devoted for the benefit of the soldiers, without any charge on the takings for any expenses of the entertainment.
asked the Minister re presenting the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Debate resumed from 26th July(vide page 569), on motion by Mr. Watt -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- I appreciate the fact that the introduction of this Bill is another and an important link in the development of Australian nationalism. I also appreciate the manner in which the measure has been introduced by the Minister, and the information he has supplied to the House. The first thing that strikes my notice is that the figures given by the Minister are the amplest vindication of the day-labour system in the construction of this national undertaking. The honorable gentleman has given an explanation and justification for the increase of expenditure on its construction over and above what was originally estimated. If honorable members will take the speech of the Minister, and add up the figures, they will find that there a very small amount is unaccounted for. It is also to be borne in mind that, after the estimate was made, the cost of material, labour, and everything else for the construction of the line, increased very much indeed.
The Minister admitted that, in one of its important aspects, this is a defence line, and I am glad to note that some of the Ministers, at any rate, have not altogether forgotten that there are interests in Australia that need to be attended to, and that one of these is preparation for the defence of the country. Just as expenditure on any national work is very largely wasted if “ that work is stopped in the middle, and does not accomplish its purpose, so it would be a great mistake if we stopped short at the arranging of our defence lines. It ought to be the beginning of railway building as one of the great bases on which the defence system of the country must be reared. It is now several years ago since the present High Commissioner, the Honorable Andrew Fisher, recognised the absolute necessity, as Leader of the Government, for the construction of strategic railways in various parts of Australia. But it is one of the evidences of the desertion of Australia’s best interests that we have heard nothing about those strategic railways which the Leader of the then Government told us were urgently required. Apparently, nothing is being done to further a project which it was agreed on all sides was absolutely essential. I hope the matter will not be altogether forgotten.
The unifying of our railway gauges has been a question of pressing urgency for many years; and every day it is allowed to remain in abeyance the vital interests of the country are being neglected. There are difficulties in the way, but the Government is charged with the responsibility of the defence of Australia, and the preparations for that defence. Although the difficulties are great they are not beyond the power of the Commonwealth to solve, and the Commonwealth has a better opportunity for solving them, with the authority it has to-day, than it ever had before, and probably more than it will have, when the war has subsided.
The whole of the railways of the Commonwealth must inevitably come under Commonwealth control. The necessity of defence should make that fact apparent now : and the time to prepare for changes of this kind is not when the enemy is at our gates, but when we have time at our disposal.
– The railways were not under the control of the Government in England, and yet the Government took charge of them at the outbreak of the war.
– It is very late in the day when war breaks out for the Commonwealth to take over the management of the railways.
– There should be a system ready for any contingency.
– Quite so ; but at present nothing is ready.
– Arrangements could be made without taking over the railways.
– We should be prepared by years of practice and coordination. To start an entirely new system of management over a continent like this, to meet such an emergency as the outbreak of war, is to invite disaster.
– The State railway administrations have, on several occasions, been represented at conferences, and asked to prepare for such an emergency.
– I know that, but, so far as I can gather, nothing serious has been done in the way0 of preparation for Australian defence; and it is too late when war breaks out to commence to harmonize the management of the railway system. Germany’s great power in this war has been largely because of her foresight in organizing national resources. Practically the whole of the engineering shops of Germany had contracts divided up amongst them, and have been encouraged to train their workmen and install machinery which would lend itself to a large output of munitions. Germany did not wait until the outbreak of war to get her workshops ready, so that the whole of the nation’s resources could at once be mobilized for defence. For this Germany was preparing for years.
– Do you think, then, that a nation should be an armed barracks ?
– I think the present war has shown that no nation at the present time can afford to be unprepared for such an event as war. I regard Australia as in danger to-day; and preparations for the defence of the country are absolutely urgent. That is one of the reasons why I am bitterly opposed to this Government, which I regard as the most un-Australian this country ever had. It is absolutely neglecting the vital interests of Australia..
– What do you say the Government ought to do?
– I say that the Government ought to prepare for the defence of Australia, and it is doing absolutely nothing.
– What ought the Government to do?
– What ought the Government to do? In July last the Government decided upon the training of the whole manhood of Australia for home defence; this was deliberately decided in view of information at the disposal of tha Government.
– Not this Government.
– I said “ the Government.” The Government then had the same Prime Minister as now, but in his absence from the Commonwealth there was a little more Australianism in the Government to decide on measures for Australian defence. As soon as the Prime Minister came back, the whole thing went overboard.
Mr.Falkiner. - And other things, too !
– But this was the most urgent. I have come to the conclusion that the reason for this attitude of the Government is that there are too many gentlemen from the British Isles in it, and that they are dominating the Administration. There appears to be no balance of- the duties we owe the Empire and Australia.It is all for the Empire and nothing for Australia.
– Pause for a moment and think of something nastier to say!
-I am not saying this because I desire to be offensive; and I hope the honorable member will believe me when I say that I have no personal feeling against any member of the House. I have certainly no feeling against the right honorable member for Parramatta.
– You have a peculiar way of dissembling your love.
– I remind the honorable member for Cook that the Bill relates to the construction and management of Commonwealth railways.
– Andthe construction and management of Commonwealth railways is a matter vitally concerned with the defence of Australia.
– This Bill does not deal with the defence of Australia, and it would not be proper to discuss defence, except so far as it might be connected with the question before the House.
– A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the honorable member desired to pay employees on the railways 8s. per day.
– Yes ; the cost of living has very largely increased.
– The minimum wage in the State railways then was 6s. per day.
– The minimum wage at that time was less than 8s., and when I moved for a minimum of 8s. per day and a maximum working day of eight hours, there was no railway ‘ system in Australia that had that principle in operation. Even to-day there are shifts of ten and twelve hours on every Australian railway system.
– Shifts of ten and twelve hours throughout the week?
– That is not true.
– Are there not night officers on theWestern Australian railways working more than eight hours?
– One small section is doing so.
– The honorable member had better be careful. He denied my statement, and immediately had to retract.
– Listening to the honorable member, I judged him to be an expert, particularly on defence.
– I may tell the honorable member that I had much to do with the railway organizations of Australia over a number of years, and I think 1 am as well informed as any other honorable member about the industrial conditions of the Australian railway systems. I repeat that there is not one railway system in the Commonwealth that has a maximum working day of eight hours, and I endeavoured at the very inception of the Commonwealth railway system to lay down conditions which would be based on a recognition of a maximum working day of eight hours.
Another reason why I think the railways of Australia must inevitably come under Commonwealth control is associated with the unification of the State debts. The Commonwealth has decided upon the unification of State debts, although the Government have done nothing to carry that proposal to completion.
SirWilliam Irvine. - That unification merely means a bookkeeping arrangement.
– Yes; but the financial conditions arising out of this war will probably compel the unification of Australian finance.
SirWilliam Irvine. - Hear, hear !
– And the pressing problem of defence will tend in the direction of Commonwealth control of the railways. These two great factors are operating towards the one end, and that is Commonwealth control of the railways of Australia and the debts associated with them.
Although this east-west railway has cost the Commonwealth a large amount of money, I hope that the staff and equipment will not be dispersed, but that the work of constructing the north-south line will be proceeded with. It would be false economy to scatter the staff all over Australia, having regard to the fact that by now it must have been trained to work as an efficient organization. I do not say that we should largely add to the staff, but in its present state it should be transferred, and the north-south line should be proceeded with, in sections, as fast as the staff can build it. I am certain we can do that. There is no doubt that there is a large amount of wealth in Australia which could be exchanged in such a way as to provide for the financing of the whole of these national railways, including the north-south line, as well as the changes of gauge. I regard the northsouth line as being of urgent importance, equally with the one from east to west. There is also the line from Jervis Bay to the Capital, and the linking up of the. Capital with the main line to Melbourne. That also is a work of urgent importance. Portion of the line has been built, and it would be certainly a waste of the expenditure incurred up to date if that line were to be left in its present incomplete state.
I do not see why both the eastwest and the north-south’ railways should not be regarded as developmental lines. Previously our ideas of development have associated themselves only with the growing of wheat and wool, but, according -to geological experts, Australia should be the greatest oil-producing country in the world. I understand that the great oil wells come from sunken sea forests. There are forests in the. ocean similar to those on land, and as convulsions of the earth have taken place, and the sea beds have risen, those forests have been covered over, and big strata of oil have been created.
– There are a good many conflicting theories on that point.
– I believe there are strata of oil in Australia.
– The trouble is that we have indications of oil all over Australia, and cannot get it.
– Because the Government employ a man who knows nothing about oil, and spends £65,000 in boring for it. The first essential is the employment of an oil expert. Oil geology has been specialized.
– The present Government did not employ this expert. “Why did not the honorable member at tend to this matter when his party had six years in office?
– If these things were neglected in the past, that is no reason why they should not be attended to now.
– Everything you say is a vote of censure on past administration.
– I do not care what it is. I found that in the organization of the Union Oil Company of San Francisco an Australian was occupying a prominent position, and in conversation with me he asserted that it was utterly useless to employ an ordinary geological expert to test country for oil. No American company . would dream of doing such a thing. The oil business has developed in such a way that it is essential for an expert oil geologist to be employed. I believe that in South Australia . there are large deposits of subterranean oil, which will never be developed if left to private enterprise.
– “Why have not the numerous water bores that have been put down in Australia struck oil?
– Probably they have not been sunk in the right spot. The whole of central Australia is an’ old sea bed.
– This discussion on oil has nothing to do with the Commonwealth railways.
– The discussion on oil is associated with the purpose of this Commonwealth railway, which I regard as a developmental line. Some honorable members have spoken of wheat and wool in connexion with this railway, and surely I am justified in making reference to the development of our oil deposits.
– The honorable member will not be in order in discussing generally the production of oil, though he may refer to that incidentally in connexion with the construction and management of Commonwealth railways.
– Apparently we have been taught to speak in terms of wheat and wool, and we are to be limited strictly to them.
– I do not wish to limit the honorable member’s scope of discussion more than is necessary under the
Standing Orders. Whilst he will be perfectly in order in referring to different industries as subjects for development in connexion with the railway, he would not be in order in discussing the question of wool growing or the relative merits of different clips of wool, for instance, although he might refer to the development of the wool industry in its relation to Commonwealth railways.
– I am sorry that I am so dense that so often when I rise to speak you consider it necessary, Mr. Speaker, to call- me to order, because my remarks are not relevant to the question under discussion. It may be also part of my denseness that I think I have noticed the same tendency much more aggravated on the part of some other honorable members without correction.
– Order ! The honorable member must discuss the Bill.
– I will say no more.
– In moving the second reading of the Bill, the Minister informed the House that he regarded the railway as a legacy. Unfortunately, the country and Parliament are very seriously concerned in this legacy, and whilst I know that the Minister, in his official capacity, is not responsible for anything that was done until just recently, the very mention of the railway as a legacy indicates some necessity for a perfectly clear understanding as to how Parliament and the country stand in relation to the cost of the line. I very much regret to say that the information before us is altogether inadequate to justify this House in dealing, with such an important question, involving as it does the creation of a new and costly Railway Department, which, if not unnecessary, is, at all events, inadvisable in these times of financial stress and strain.
– It involves nothing of the sort.
– The remarks of the honorable member who has just resumed his seat have shown additional need for very rigid inquiry into the operations and cost of this railway. I do not know whether the honorable member was attempting to be humorous and satirical when he referred to this line as an example of the success of the daylabour system; but, if it is his opinion, it is not the opinion of the people of Australia. We ought to have a very rigid inquiry in order to ascertain whether the adoption of the day-labour principle will be justified in the construction of future railways. In passing, I may mention that, when an expenditure of about £2,000,000 had been involved in the building of this railway, Mr. Joseph Timms, a well-known railway contractor, in fact, the largest in Australia, wrote to the then Prime Minister offering to build the line according to the departmental schedules for £2,000,000.
– The Government would have had to spend another £1,000,000 afterwards, in order to put things right.
– I have no doubt that the Government have spent more than another £1,000,000 already, without the assistance of Mr. Timms. The offer was referred by the Ministry of the day to the Engineer-in-Chief, Mr. Bell, and he recommended that it be not entertained, and that he be allowed to carry out the work departmentally. He reported that no saving would be effected by accepting Mr. Timms’ offer.
– It is equally true that Mr. Timms tendered for a section of the line, and the Government have since constructed it at a saving of £25,000.
– Any one who knows anything about railway work knows that such ‘things are not uncommon. If the Department has not sufficient skill to protect itself, it should not be relied on.
– What was the date of Mr. Timms’ offer?
– It was submitted on the 9th November, 1914. I am very anxious, in the interest of economical expenditure, and of the country, that the greatest fairness should be extended to any one who has had the carrying out of this work at times when dimculties have been abnormal. On four or five occasions, I have addressed the House on this subject at considerable length, and I have always made allowance for the abnormal conditions that have prevailed in connexion with this work; but I seek to have those abnormal conditions submitted to the most rigid scrutiny, because, if day ‘ labour is a success in the construction of railways, it should continue; but if it is not a success, we should know where it has failed. My honorable friends opposite should be quite satisfied with a reasonable proposition of that nature.
After making his offer, Mr. Timms waited on the. Prime Minister of the day, and dealt with some of the objections raised in Mr. Bell’s report. The offer submitted by Mr. Timms was not one . from a man of no substance. In his first communication to ‘ the Government, he informed them that he was prepared to make a deposit of £50,000, and also to allow another £50,000 to be kept back out of the progress payments. In other words, he offered to put up £100,000 as a guarantee of good faith.
– Has the honorable member carefully read the offer?
– Yes; and I discussed it with the Government of the day.
– Did the offer include rails and sleepers? ‘
– Undoubtedly not. Mr. Bell dealt with that matter. Mr. Bell, in recommending that the offer be turned down, had it in his mind that the line would be built, as he had built many railways in Queensland, by the small contract, or butty-gang system.
– If the honorable member will make a calculation he will see that the cost of rails and sleepers alone would come to the amount which he has mentioned.
– The honorable Minister has not followed my remarks closely. I said that to the date of the offer the Government were involved in an expenditure of £2,000,000, which included the cost of rails and sleepers.
– Very few of them. All the rails and sleepers had not been acquired at that date.
– At any rate, the bulk of the sleepers had been contracted for by that time. I have a statement dealing with the excessive cost of material due to the war, and it shows that800 miles of rails and 900 miles of sleepers were arranged for, delivered, and paid for a very long time ago.
– Not by the end of 1914.
– No; but a big portion of them were. Of course, we should have all this information on the table of the House. I am trusting largely to memory and to such scraps of information that I have been able to glean in a very little time from Hansard over the last four years, so that I am not in a position to offer that definite and detailed criticism that I would very much like to offer, and which should be offered before we proceed very much further with this Bill.
– If the honorable member will let me know exactly what . information he desires I will endeavour to get it for him.
– Exactly ; but I remind the Minister that in his rush of business he has overlooked the fact that five weeks ago I asked him for a return of the operations of the Traffic Department, which Department was instituted when the right honorable member for Parramatta was Minister for Home Affairs, over three years ago. From time to time I have asked for, and obtained, returns of the results of its operations, and five weeks ago I asked the present Minister whether he would see that I had, as soon as possible, the figures brought up to the end of the financial year.
– It has not been possible to secure the information yet.
– It was possible to secure it immediately when I asked for it on previous occasions. I admit that it was obtained by telegraph.
– It was only approximate: As the work proceeds from the rail head it becomes harder and harder to supply the information speedily. The line is nearly 500 miles out from rail head at eachend.
– The trains do not travel the whole distance. The returns have generally come from the western end by the ordinary mail, and from the eastern end by direct rail.
– It takes three weeks to do the thing properly, and then there is the loss of time in the transit through the mails. I expect the return to be at hand nextweek.
– That is nob sufficient justification for not having all the facts before this House before we dispose of the Bill. If we realized our responsibilities to the country on this matter of public expenditure we should ask to have the Bill referred to a Select Committee for examination and report.
– The Bill does not relate to the matter with which the honorable member is dealing. He is talking about the construction of the line, and its past history.
– What I am ‘talking about has everything to do with the Bill. The cost of tie line is related to the prospective revenue and the question whether the result will be loss or gain.
– Did not the honorable member want an additional 30 miles of line built from Port Augusta to Quorn, so that the workshops might be built there?
– I secured an inquiry into that matter, and it prevented, at all events for the present, an expenditure of £266,000, for which an expenditure of something under £40,000 has been substituted.
– It was infinitely better to put the workshops at Port Augusta than at Quorn.
– The honorable member was a member of the Government which approved of the expenditure of £266,000 over a period of two years.
– On workshops.
– Cabinet did not know anything more than the fact that the money was to be spent on workshops.
– Where did the honorable member desire the workshops to be built?
– Where experts should decide was the best place.
– Were the gentlemen who made the examination experts?
– One of the experts was the Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer of Victoria, who has had infinitely more practical experience than any expert in the employment of the Federal Government to-day has had in that direction.
– I am embarrassed; there are so many honorable members who seem to know more about some phases of this question than I do.
– It should embarrass the Minister. I have never seen a more excellent recommendation than that which was given by the present Minister for Works and Railways to the expert to whom the honorable member, for Grey has referred.
– Yet he said that Port-. Augusta was the proper place for thai workshops.
– While hesaid that, he also recommended cutting down the £266,000 approved of by the Cabinet of the day to something under £40,000.
– Yes, for the time being.
– No man in this House knows better than the honorable member for the district that “ the time being” will probably be another fifty years.
In introducing this Bill, the Minister made a brief historical reference to the east-west railway. The original estimates of the cost of constructing the line were in the region of £4,000,000. There was one estimate of about £4,000,000, and another of £4,500,000, but, exclusive of rolling-stock - except for a limited supply - the estimate was a little over £4,000,006. That estimate has been sneered at on many occasions since the work was undertaken, but the fact remains that a conference of five State engineers-in-chief - all the States except Tasmania being represented - was responsible for the basis on which it was made. I invite honorable members to examine it in the light of the action of the present EngineerinChief of Commonwealth Railways in turning down Mr. Timms’s offer, and to see what opinion he then held as to the probable cost of the railway. These State engineers-in-chief, meeting in conference, determined what would be a fair estimate, having regard to the information at their disposal, and they were certainly not without data for their guidance. The Railway Departments of Western Australia and South Australia were called upon to assist them, and they furnished such data as an intimate experience of the two States through which the railway was to pass could enable them to supply. No more reliable information could have been submitted at that time to the conference.
– Was the information complete?
– It was as complete as it could be at the time. The honorable member will admit that the engineers-in-chief of Western Australia and South Australia ought to know more about their own States than the engineerinchief of New South Wales or Queens- land.
– What instructions did they receive?
– The instructions are set out in the parliamentary papers, which have been available for some years, but unfortunately very few honorable members have looked at them.
– Life is too short to allow of the reading of big Blue-Books.
– It is not too short to allow of the squandering of money and the building up of huge costly departments. The Minister for Works and Railways has suggested that some honorable members appear to know a great deal more about these matters than he does. I am not responsible for that. The honorable gentleman will concede, however, that I ought to know more about local conditions and what is going on in South Australia than a Victorian or New South Welshman.
– Hear, hear!
– Public feeling on this question has been so strong in South Australia for the last four years that the work is now looked upon almost with ridicule. The reason is that South Australians have come into / almost daily contact with the men working on the line and know what has been going on during all these years.
– How does the honorable member reconcile this speech with that which he made on the occasion of the turning of the first sod?
– At that time I advocated the construction of a line to cost £4,000,000. I have been doing my best ever since to bring the several Governments of the Commonwealth, and also the Parliament, to a sense of their duty. I have urged them to order an investigation to determine whether this Parliament is justified in constructing this line at a cost 60 per cent, in excess of the original estimate.
– This line, when finished, will cost little more than the Oodnadatta narrow-gauge line cost.
– The honorable member is talking without his book. If he were to consult the officers of the
South Australian Railway Department he would not repeat that statement. In any event, the Oodnadatta railway, although it is a narrow-gauge line, ought to have cost more, since it passes through a lot of difficult country. It goes through Pichi Richi Pass, Hookina Pass, and other difficult stretches of country, whereas the east-west railway, practically from beginning to end, passes through flat country. The Minister himself told us that the east-west line has a longer straight run than any other railway.
– In making this comparison, is it not fair to write on the other side the fact that when the Oodnadatta line was constructed the cost of labour was probably less than half what it is today, and that material was also much cheaper ?
– Provision was made accordingly, and I did not introduce the comparison.
– A still further fact is that had the estimated cost of £4,000,000 been correct, this line would have been constructed for less than the Oodnadatta line.
– It ought to be constructed for less, seeing that there are no engineering difficulties. The further we proceed with this discussion the more evident it becomes that the Bill shouldbe referred to a Select Committee.
– But this Bill has nothing whatever to do with the mattersto which the honorable member has just been referring.
– It has everything to do with them. A Commonwealth Railway Department ought not to be created, at all events, during the war.
– There is a Commonwealth Railway Department already in existence.
– Arrangements ought to be made with the Railway Departments of South Australia and Western Australia to manage these railways for the time being.
– I thought that suggestion would not be received with approval. It is the old, old story of Commonwealth Ministers glorifying in building up Departments. The metropolitan press of the several States is just beginning to deal with this question, which it should have taken up long ago.
– The Commonwealth Railway Department has been in existence for many years, and, as a matter of fact, this Bill will reduce the cost of administration.
– After the Minister has had four or five years’ experience of what he is now proposing, he will wish that he had never made the speech that he did in introducing the Bill.
– It is very easy to indulge in prophecy, but I have had more experience of railway administration - more experience by many years - than the honorable member has had.
– I have had a good many years official experience ‘ of railway . administration, but I have never heard such a statement as that which the honorable gentleman submitted to the House in moving the second reading of the Bill. In dealing with Yass-Canberra, he became poetic. It was, after all, poor poetry, and there is poor scope for poetry in the ^east-west railway.
– He had a dream there.
– YassCanberra is not a dream to be trifled with:
– It is a nightmare.
– It is to the people of Australia. The Minister who would, it seems, reflect on my knowledge of railway administration, told the House that the east-west railway went through 1,050 miles of country in which there was not a human habitation.
– I said 1,000 miles.
– The greater part of that 1,000 miles of country has been occupied between forty and fifty years.
– Where are the houses?
– I saw some of them through the railway carriage windows when I was travelling with the Minister.
– The honorable member saw the first at Wilgena.
– I saw them at Wilgena and, before that, I saw houses at Tarcoola.
– Tarcoola is not fifty years old.
– The honorable member is referring to the goldfield itself, whereas I am speaking of pastoral occupation. I have been in the north of South Australia for thirty-seven years, and some of the stations in the country to which we are referring were well established when I arrived. Then again, the Minister spoke of the provision of water by boring, and the impression he gave was that boring operations had been fairly successful. He was asked as to the quality of the water, and said, I think, that it was excellent. So far as I know there is not a successful bore along the line, except at Kingoonya.
– The honorable member has been over the western end of the line and has tasted the water.
– The honorable member for Dampier has, and hehas told me of it.
– It is a matter of palate.
– Is it not a fact that the railway officials say that they have now to rely on the Kingoonya water supply, as well as on the immense condensing tanks, and the supply at Mundarring provided at great cost.- Reservoirs are also being constructed for the storage of water from catchment areas which are not all of the very best. These reservoirs, however, are essential, but costly, because of the indifferent rainfall.
The engineers who made the orginal estimate of the cost of the line provided as much for water as this Government has spent in obtaining it. They estimated the cost of getting supplies of water at between £300,000 and £400,000, and spoke of the difficulty of getting water as the supreme difficulty connected with the construction of the line. I forgot to mention that the water at Depot Creek promises to be very satisfactory. That supply has been . known of ever since that part of the country was settled. . But the supplies referred to by the Minister yesterday are practically useless for the operating of the line.
– Not useless !
– Those on the South Australian side are absolutely useless, because there is not a sufficient quantity of water.
– What about those on the Western Australian side?
– Regarding them I speak on the authority of the honorable member for Dampier.
– Has he been along the line ?
– I do not know, but for about nine years he was
Minister for Mines in Western Australia, and should know something of the subject.
– The honorable member has always been aware that there is no surface water in the country.
– I am not complaining of that. What I say is that the information with which we have been supplied by the Minister is unsatisfactory.
– Wait until Mr. Balsillie gets to work.
– The Minister claims that Mr. Balsillie has increased the rainfall from 50 to 60 per cent., but the public of Western Australia and South Australia regard him as bally silly- for saying that.
– When the honorable member has finished his speech we shall hear what other South Australians have to say regarding it.
– It is not likely that it will be criticised by other South Australians. I know the opinion of both the Commonwealth and the State representatives of South Australia regarding this line. State members have told me that I have never exaggerated the facts on the occasions on which I have tried to get this House to take control of the matter.
– The honorable member has said that the work has cost too much, that is all.
– I wish to know the reason why it has cost too much. For many years I regarded this Parliament as criminally negligent of control concerning public expenditure, and that was the opinion of the Minister for Railways also, judging by some of the eloquent speeches he made before he’ entered this Parliament. But I thought thatl when the Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee were appointed, Parliament would have information regarding public expenditure which would enable honorable members. to give effect to their individual responsibility in these matters. The construction of this railway for an expenditure of £4,000,000 was what . Parliament sanctioned, but, according to the Minister’s statement, the amount expended has already exceeded by over 60 per cent, the amount of the estimate, and all the accounts are not yet. in. The proposal cannot be referred to the Public Works Committee, notwithstanding that some of the departures from the original scheme had cost scores, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. Still I am glad to know, on the authority of the Prime Minister, that the matter is to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee.
– That was not promised.
– If that be “so, I wish to know in what light the people are to regard the statement made yesterday by the Minister.
– The Public Accounts Committee, when appointed, will be entitled to investigate this matter at any time without waiting for a reference.
– The Prime Minister promised ‘that the matter should be referred to . the Committee, and said that he would provide an engineering expert to act in an advisory capacity for . the Committee.
– The honorable member must admit that the cost of labour alone has increased by. 60 per cent, since the work was sanctioned.
– I have many times admitted that both labour and materials have increased in cost.. Making every allowance for that, I say that the management has not been what it should be. . If the management had been good, why should the Department object to a proper inquiry?
– The Department offers no objection to an inquiry, but my concern now is to get the line opened.
– If the ‘ Minister knew as much about the line as do the people of the States through which it runs, he would not be so much concerned about getting it opened.
– I desire to see it opened as soon as possible.
– With the Treasurer all roads lead to Western Australia, and he should be remembered in that State for a century for the way in which he has battled for its interests. I do not object to the railway being opened as soon as it is finished, and we are told that it will be finished at the end of September. It would be possible to run the line without creating the proposed Department, and thus increasing the administrative costs.
– The honorable member would farm ‘the line out to the States concerned!
– Yes, and the Treasurer agrees with’ me that that should be done.
– I thought that it might be a little more economical, but the Minister assures me that it would be more expensive. He bases his opinion on our experience in ‘connexion with the Oodnadatta railway.
– When the Commonwealth takes over the running of the Oodnadatta line, the expenditure there will increase by 50 per cent, within six months. There could not be anything more extravagant than the management of the East-West railway by the Commonwealth. For the last three or four years there has been a traffic Department for that line. There is an Acting Commissioner, a Director of Transport and a Chief Mechanical Engineer. When the Minister for the Navy was Prime Minister I appealed to him not to create a traffic Department, because that would lead, to enormous expenditure, and because such a thing was almost unknown in connexion with initial railway construction. I said that there should be one supreme authority for the construction of the line, without division of interests.
– The Department was in existence long before I took office.
– It was created when the honorable member was Prime Minister. He submitted to me areport consisting of several sheets of foolscap, which had been, supplied to him by the Transport Officer. That report made out that it would be profitable to create the proposed Department, and the Government of the day gave effect to the recommendation. ‘
– Why did not the honorable gentleman impose a limitation on expenditure in 1911, when the construction of the railway was sanctioned ?
– For sixteen or seventeen years I was a member of a Parliament by whom officials whose expenditure largely exceeded their estimates were brought to book, and dismissed if it continued, and I thought that the same treatment would be given to Commonwealth officials.
– The fact that the honorable member was supplied with a report by the Director of Transport is evidence that the Department was in existence at the time.
– The report was by the officer who was Director of Transport for constructional supplies. I understand that shortly afterwards his salary was increased by £200.
– The new Engineer.inChief. on reviewing his work, recommended that he should get £200 a year more.
– I wish to show how amply my warnings have been verified. I have obtained four or five returns showing the operations of this Department^ and I hope that the Minister for Railways will at the first opportunity get a complete return. The latest return in my possession deals with the revenue and expenditure for the six months ended on the 31st January last. During that period the revenue from all sources from the public to this Traffic Department, which has been in existence three or four years, was £5,335 12s. 3d. The revenue from the Department, which the Treasurer, almost innocently, in his love for Western Australia, if I had not interjected, would have returned as the revenue from the railway-
– What is that?
– I am referring to the bookkeeping business, and to the last Supply Bill.
– I never insinuated that.
– The revenue from the Department for the hauling of material and so forth was £69,845 12s. 7d., and to earn the two sums the cost was £137,484 10s. Id.
– Will the honorable member say how he gets the last figure?
– I got it from the Department. When I asked for the returns I asked for them to be made out separately, showing the revenue from the .public and. from the Department.
– I think that a conference with the expert officers would convince the honorable member that his figures are wrong, used as he is using- them.
– I am simply giving the figures as they were presented by the Department to Parliament. These returns have been going on for two or three years, and the Department has not contradicted any of them ; indeed, they cannot be contradicted.
– What do you wish to prove?
– I wish to prove a principle that the Treasurer would apply rigidly to some of the Departments, as I hope he will apply it to all. I wish to prove that there ought to have been some regard paid to the. cost of construction in its relation to the anticipated revenue?
– There are 650 miles of the railway in the honorable member’s own territory, out of 1,00C miles.
– That argument may appeal to the honorable member for Swan, but it does not in any way appeal to me.
– You suck the orange, and now you do not care for oranges. ^
– While the revenue from the public covers passenger fares as well as freight, I do not suppose that very much is represented by fares, because the passengers are all Government servants who go free on board. This traffic will, I suppose, come into the bookkeeping business.
– The honorable member will agree that when the line was authorized it was quite well known that the revenue would not anything like meet the outlay.
– Everybody did know that - particularly everybody in Western Australia and South Australia.
– And they have made a fortune out of it in the meantime.
– Your people -have.
– No, your people, who had 650 miles of railway built in their country for nothing.
– It must be remembered that we did not ask for it A Traffic Department, which has been operating for two or three years, ought to have been in a position to give some reliable estimate of what the revenue is likely to be. The Minister gave it to us in a lump sum.
– We cannot deal with two cock-spur lines approaching one another as we can with a trunk line. Who can predict what the traffic will be east and west?
– The Minister has told us how much the revenue will be, but’ what I complain of is that he has not told us how he arrives at his conclusion. I asked the Minister, when he was speaking, if he would be good enough to give the House the details of the amount stated by him - the details supplied by his responsible officers - and he said he would.
– Details of what?
– Of the revenue - as to how much would come from cattle traffic, goods traffic, and so forth.
– It would only be a guess,’ anyhow.
– When the first estimates were made I was at the Railway Department in South Australia,and’ the Railway Commissioner of that State, and also the Railway Commissioner of Western Australia, gave estimates of the revenue.
– They did.
– Is it the practice by any Government in Australia to bring in a Railway Bill without such a statement? We have a Commissioner
– We have had an Acting Commissioner for two or three years.
– What is the good of this criticism now ?
– It is my imperative and conscientious duty to offer such criticism, because it is a duty altogether neglected by the House.
– You have had all the benefit, and now you find fault !
– I desire the truth to’ be told ; and the honorable member for Swan cannot answer me on these points.
– I can.
– You can, but you would not like to see the answers in print,
– What is that? What is it I will not answer?
– I invite the honorable member to put in print his interjections in the House this morning.
– They can all go into print so far as I am concerned.
– They would not read very well in the morning’s newspapers !
– They would show I am acting a proper part.
– There is no reason on earth why the Department should not give this House a report in detail as to the traffic; in fact they knew the particulars, and they know the revenue has melted down from the previous extravagant estimate to about £12,000 or £14,000 a year at the outside for freights.
– What do you wish to prove?
– I wish to prove that the railway has cost so much, and that the expenditure has been incurred with an entire disregard to its relation to the anticipated revenue. I wish to prove that because of the absence of proper control by this House of public expenditure, we have now sot what is really a “ white elephant,” which will be a burden on the people for all time.
– You mean another “ white elephant “ !
– Another “ white elephant,” if you like to put) it that way. The Minister has made a. statement as to what the annual interest charge will be. The original estimate of the cost was £4,000,000, and the interest, calculated at 3½ per cent, for twelve months, is within only a few pounds more or less of the interest stated by the present Minister on a cost- of nearly £7,000,000.
– That is not correct. Your statement about the interest is not correct.
– Here is another reason why we should have official information. We have to discuss this important problem on the most meagre facts - on scraps in the daily press - and then we are’ confronted with the statement that what is said is not correct.
– I assume a knowledge of elementary arithmetic on the part of honorable members.
– The honorable member has assumed and said much that is absolutely contrary to fact, and the honorable member knows very well he cannot substantiate it.
– What good can the honorable member do by what he is now saying? Is it his desire to give a new Minister injunctions for the future?
– I do not wish to give any injunctions; I am simply doing my dutyas a member of the House.
If I did not take my present course I should not be doing my duty.
– You cannot undo what is done.
– But I do not desire to see the same done over again. I hope . that the Minister for Railways does not think I am adopting an unfriendly attitude.
– No ; but the Bill will stop a recurrence of the complaints you are making.
– I think the Minister said, in introducing the Bill, that the interest for a year would be £157,724.
– No; that is the total loss for nine months.
– I am not dealing with the matter of loss.
– That is the figure I gave as the loss for nine months.
– In the newspaper report of the honorable gentleman’s speech he is alleged to have said that the cost of the railway was to be £6,667,360, and that the interest for twelve months would be £157,724.
– The honorable member has his figures wrong.
– What will the interest be?
– By leave of the House, I could give the figures now.
– If the honorable member for Wakefield resumes his seat he will forfeit his right to speak again.
– For the nine months I gave the working expenses as £168,613, and the revenue as £159,694, including construction revenue. The loss on the working expenses, therefore, for the nine months is £8,819. If you add the nine months’ interest, which is £148,805, you have a loss of £157,724; and then, if you go further and make a calculation for the twelve months you have to add a fourth, which makes the loss £210.299.
– That means that my figure of £157,724 is subject to a deduction of £8,000 odd.’
– That is the loss for nine months. If you wish to know the interest for the year it comes to £198,000, which the Treasury supplies as the debit.
– The interest, as supplied by the EngineerinChief on an outlay of £4,000,000 was £159,566 at 3½ per cent. That was on a capital cost 60 per cent, less than that now involved.
– The Treasury was asked to debit us with the interest, and I give the figures supplied.
– A portion of the capital cost has come out of revenue, another portion out of the Note Fund, and a third out of loan moneys; and the House is entitled to know tha exact figures in relation to each. I contend that all public undertakings of this character should be paid for out of loan money.
– Hear, hear!
– It is all treated as loan moneys.
– It is treated as revenue and thus we add to the taxation burdens of the community.
– Whatever the source of the capital, I propose to treat it as interestbearing capital.
– And have I the assurance of the Minister that this money, irrespective of whether it came from revenue, from the Notes Fund, ot from loan, will all be debited against capital cost?
– That is my intention.
– Then I do not think the Minister’s figures are correct on that basis.
– We are not debiting the whole £6,000,000 for the nine months, because the whole amount will not have been spent. But the whole capital cost ought to carry interest at whatever rate the Treasury considers fair.
– We shall have to do with this railway as was done with the Oodnadatta line.
– If the Government do no worse than was done with the Oodnadatta line, I will compliment them for a month on end.
– I do not see that we could do much worse.
– They have been doing worse all along. However an inquiry into the accounts will settle that. I have not the slightest feeling against anybody connected with this railway.
– The honorable member is only wasting his breath if he imagines that this is an immediately pay ing proposition. It cannot be, and never was intended to be so.
– - The honorable member’s statement is a reflection on his own intelligence. Any man who would assume that this was an immediate paying proposition ought not to be outside a lunatic asylum. For that reason, and -because the loss is ever increasing, I wish to see a limitation of the cost.
– You are locking the stable door too late ; (the horse has been gone for months.
– I have been hammering away at this matter for years.
– You should have started in 1911. This is a death-bed repentance on your part.
– It is nothing of the kind. I have been speaking to an empty House for years. If the House had listened to me, and insisted on a business conduct of the undertaking, as soon as the prices for material rose on’ account of the war, the construction would have been stopped. »
– I think the fault lies with the honorable member for Wentworth. He was the first Minister in charge of the railway.
– What was , a justifiable proposition on the basis of the recommendations of the EngineersinChief of Australia, at a cost of about £4,000,000, is not a justifiable proposition on its present cost. There is not an honorable member who will say that, had the present cost of the line been suggested when the Bill authorizing the construction of the line was before Parliament, the project would have been agreed to.
– That is a fair way of looking at it.
– And if we had had proper statements as to how these excesses were occurring, the construction would have been stopped long ago.
– Do you not think it was farcical to commence the construction of the line before Western Australia had built the broad gauge from Perth to Kalgoorlie ?
– Yes; and that is another evidence that the people in Western Australia and South Australia do not think they have any great prize coming to them through the completion of this line. Western Australia has not carried out an honorable understanding in regard to the Perth-Kalgoorlie section ; but it must be remembered that that State has been in straitened circumstances, and the Government had to choose between the development of its agricultural lands or the sinking of £2,000,000 in broadening the gauge from Perth to Kalgoorlie, from which expenditure they could expect no commensurate return.
– But it is not right for Western Australia to charge the Commonwealth full rates for goods carried over the Perth-Kalgoorlie line.
– No. That brings me to a suggestion that has been made that a proportion of the earnings on the transcontinental line between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta should go to the Western Australian Government.
Extension of time granted.
– The Western Australian Railway Department is now asking for some proportion of the fares earned on other sections of the line. I think that is an unmoral suggestion.
– I am glad to hear the Minister say that. Reference has been made by interjection to the proposal that the Commonwealth should take over the Oodnadatta line.
– That has been suggested, but, of course, the passing of this Bill is immaterial to that. We have the power to do that without this Bill.
– Yes, the taking over of the line can be the subject of an agreement. An agreement was made with the ex-Minister of Home Affairs for a period of two years.
– That is so, but I do not propose to do anything until I can, with the honorable members interested, inspect the proposition.
– Ought not the .House to have an opportunity of investigating the matter ?
– I should be delighted if such an opportunity were given, because I should be able to point out to honorable members that this proposal is even more ridiculous in war-time than is the east-west railway. The northern railway is really a cattle traffic line.
– It is worked extensively for only a few weeks in the year.
– There are three trains a week to Hergott Springs, and there is a fortnightly train to Oodnadatta. During four or five months of the year there are several special cattle trains run every week-end, some of them from Farina, and most of them, go to Hergott Springs, or William Creek, or Oodnadatta. Whilst the passenger receipts on that line are limited, there is very considerable traffic which is done in four or five months of the year. Its volume depends on the season.
– Without that railway the country would not be occupied at all.
– That is so. I intend to get from the South Australian Railway Department figures which will represent the Oodnadatta railway in its proper light.
– If it were extended there would be a bigger cattle traffic.
– The cattle traffic is growing, and will continue to. do so, but it can be handled only by cooperation between the two Governments. For instance, South Australia, with a fully developed Railway Department and a big supply of rolling-stock, can handle the northern cattle business only by withdrawing rolling-stock and men from another system, probably from the Broken Hill system.
– The two systems should operate together.
– It is the one 3-ft. 6-in. system.
– While the northern cattle trade is being handled, the whole of the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge vehicles are concentrated on that traffic, and the enginemen and staff have to be drawn from the Broken Hill system. If the Commonwealth had to operate that line independently, a great portion of the equipment and staff would be idle for six months in the year.
– That would not be proposed by any sensible administration. Even i? we took over the line we should have to arrange for an interchange of rolling-stock. There are many difficulties, however, in the present situation. Our hiring charges are very great, and repairs and supervision are too costly.
– I should agree with the honorable member if he said his proposal would be infinitely worse. There will be worse difficulty if this line is taken over and operated by the Commonwealth. If a Commonwealth Railway Department had any prospect of development on paying lines, I should be the last to urge anything against the creation of the Department at once; but so far as we can see, having regard to existing financial conditions, which are not likely to improve for some time, there can be no development in connexion with railways.
– I cannot understand the honorable member’s constantly recurring phrase about the creation of a Department. This Department has been created for many years, and the Bill will effect economy and give better administration.
– I say that it will not. South Australian and Western Australian railway men, and the Governments of those States, express the same opinion, and they ought to understand the local conditions.
– Both Governments desire to feed on this line as they have been doing. They have sucked a good ‘deal of juice out of it, and they wish to continue to do that.
– We must have a Bill to authorize the operation of the line. What does the honorable member suggest in lieu of this proposal ?
– I suggest that until the war is over, the Common-‘ wealth should ask the two State Governments to run this railway in their own. territories. It could be run by them conjointly, like the Melbourne to Adelaide and Melbourne to Sydney lines.
– We cannot divide this baby into two, and let it out to two wetnurses.
– The honorable member is not to be envied in presiding over the Commonwealth railways, because they will be the. poorest railway system on earth, and will not be a good advertisement for this country.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I wish to urge upon honorable members the advisability of the Commonwealth arranging % that the States of South Australia and Western Australia jointly should run the east-west railway, at all events until after the war. They already have their administrative staffs, and could quite easily include the administration of the sections of the east-west line which run - through their territories without much extra overhead cost. I urge upon “.he Minister the question of the removal of the management of the Commonwealth railways from political control.’ We know that in connexion with railway administration there -has been a gradual development of anything but independent control.
– Sometimes the railway control becomes too independent, and loses sight of public interests.’
– The honorable member for Cook began his speech by urging that railway employees should have the right to go to the Arbitration Court in respect to their wages and conditions of labour. Whoever controls the wages of a big business concern very largely controls the conduct of that business.
– But it is the policy of the Com mon wealth !
– I am aware that it is, but it is a rather unfortunate policy that in common with other departures the Liberal party strenuously resisted.
– The Commonwealth Parliament has never asserted that system for railways!
– When I speak of the Liberal party I speak of its attitude prior to the coalition. Under the control of former Governments, assented to by the previously combined parties, there have been departures in the conduct of business which have been forced by a block vote of certain members who now sit in opposition; but the Liberal party never did approve of this policy, and I hope that in the interests of the country, and of the workers themselves, there will be some adjustment, so that we can get down to bedrock once again in the matter of “ordinary well-established business principles. About eighteen months ago> the Commonwealth Government gave the South Australian Government notice of their intention to take over the Oodnadatta line, and in order that they might be ready to assume the running control of that railway they began to make arrangements so far as a staff was concerned. Instead of there being independence of control a meeting was convened at Port Augusta, and the responsible officers of the Department and fifteen unions were represented at it, and it went into details as to what the rates of pay and the conditions of service and so on should be. It was all quite foreign to the spirit of a Railway Commissioner’s authority and to sane business principles. I am not going into details in regard to this matter. I am speaking merely from a report, which, I understand: was furnished to the representative of the Port Augusta newspaper. However, the meeting established conditions differing very materially and vitally from those rn the South Australian railway system controlled by a Commissioner of Railways.
– The procedure ado’pted for the settlement of wages conditions was quite wrong.
– I am glad to hear the Minister say that. I expected him to say it. Not only were the rates of pay and the conditions of labour very dissimilar, but the classification drawn up was wrong. The Federal authorities anticipated that a considerable section of the South Australian railway employees engaged in running the traffic on the transcontinental line would transfer to the Commonwealth Service. The permanent men in the service of the South Australian Government have the right to elect whether they will continue with the South Australian Government or transfer to the Commonwealth Service. The regulations of the South Australian Service give the engine-drivers and firemen a certain status and rate of pay, according to length of service. The meeting at Port Augusta proposed to group these men, in common with others on the eastwest railway, in sections, and classify them in sections in the matter of seniority and pay, and as this meant that firstclass railway men in the South Australian service would have to submit to a status which put them alongside men of the third or the fourth grade they elected not to transfer to the Commonwealth service, although the pay was higher. I have no desire to elaborate this point. I simply mention it so that the Minister may take it into consideration. There are many other .points to which I would like to refer, but I do not. wish to say anything further at the present time. I hope earnestly (hat the Minister will go most thoroughly into the whole matter. In Committee, as he has suggested, he may be in a position to make some statements that may alter my view-point; but if
I have been incorrect it is not my faulty because I have been compelled to discuss the question on what information I possess. If I have dealt with extraneous matters, or what might be considered extraneous matters, it is because they really affect the issue, seeing that they affect the capital cost of the line.
– .The House has been very interested in the remarks of the honorable member for Wakefield, but it is very late in the day for an honorable member representing a South Australian constituency to come forward and remonstrate with Parliament for indulging in such a large expenditure on the construction of a line linking the east with the west. There are many honorable members who have a lively recollection of the taking over of the Northern Territory and the line from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta. The representatives of South Australia did not take exception to that step, yet it loaded us with a much greater responsibility than will ever be put upon us by the construction of the east-west railway. There was a tone of disappointment in the speech of the . honorable member for Wakefield that .the Minister in trying to give some explanation of the expenditure of £6,600,000 on the construction of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway did not “ lay out “ right and left against the day-labour system by which it has been built. In my opinion the Minister gave very ample reasons for the line having cost so much more than it was originally estimated to cost, namely, about £4,000,000. When the line has been completed it will be very different from that which was forecasted by those who gave us the estimate of £4,000,000. The very fad. that the line has been under construction for more than two and a half years of the great world war has made considerable difference in the cost.
– There are no law costs as to disputes about extras.
– In discussing the second reading of the Bill one does not wish to deal with that particular point; but I remember some exceptionally lively debates in the House in regard to one contract, as a result of which I do not think any one would ask that the railways should be built under the contract system.
– That has never been suggested.
Mr.FENTON.- I do not know. If the honorable member for Wakefield had his way every yard of ‘the track would have been constructed under the contract system.
– The butity-gang system was the system suggested.
– The honorable member attacked the day-labour system, and he’ gave himself away when he saidthat one gentleman had made a very liberal offer, and that from the financial standpoint that gentleman showed that he was not moneyless, seeing that he was prepared to put up £100,000 as. a guarantee of his financial stability, while in the next breath he said that this gentleman was one of the most successful contractors in Australia. His statement proved that! the man had made very large profits out of his contracts.
– It proved the contractor’s ability.
– I am not blaming contractors ; I am only blaming the system. The statement shows that the gentleman in question must_ have made large sums as a railway contractor; that after paying for labour, and providing for plant, and all other costs, there remained, in the case of these contracts, a big margin of profit, which, instead of going into the pockets of the . individual, should have passed into the coffers of the State had the work been done by day labour. The Minister has given many good reasons why this line has cost more than was originally estimated.
– The honorable member wishes to give to day labour the reward of efficiency for “ going slow.”
– I am prepared to reward efficiency wherever I find it.
– Then why object to it on the part of a contractor?
– I do not; but I object to large profits going to a contractor when, under another system, the State would enjoy them.
– But the honorable member would make use of the contractor’s brains - he would rob him of the reward of his brains.
– Not at all. Contractors - I am not now referring only to railway contractors - are among the wealthiest men in Australia. In the construction of railways over country in Victoria very similar to that through which the east-west line passes - I refer to the Mallee - the butty-gang system has proved most successful. Reports by Mr. Kernot and other engineers all show that in respect of those lines the butty-gang system, has won every time as against the contract system. In some cases, by the adoption of’ the butty-gang system, Victoria has saved up to £1,000 per mile.
– Has the honorable member ever heard of a’ Government engineer being sacked for incompetency, no matter how serious his mistakes’?
– Where an engineer or any other officer of a Department has been shown to be incompetent, the Minister in charge of that Department must himself be incompetent if he allows him to remain in the Service.
The honorable member for Wakefield seemed to have some fears regarding- the establishment of a Commonwealth Railway Department. I do not think that our experience of either the South Australian or Western Australian Railway Departments has been such as to induce us to leave to them the management of the east-west line. Although we may. have to call a halt in railway construction during the w.ar, Australia has yet great railway undertakings ahead of it. A very big railway scheme must be part and parcel of any effective plan for the defence of the Commonwealth.
– Our experience of . allowing some of the States to do work for us has not been very satisfactory.
– Quite so, and while I am opposed to the creation of any Department that is not absolutely necessary, I think that this House, and a Minister sitting in this House, should have control of the railways of the Commonwealth.
I regret that the Parliament decided to construct the east-west railway on a 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge. I prefer the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, and had it been adopted we should have been in a much happier position than we are to-day in regard to this line.
– It was the biggest blunder ever made by this Parliament.
– Undoubtedly. We practically decided what should be for all time the standard railway gauge for Australia. Experience in America and elsewhere proves that a wider gauge is preferable.
– There is a limit.
– Mr. Harriman, one of the greatest railway managers that the world has ever known, said, shortly before his death, that if he had to start again upon .the work of constructing the railways of the United States of America he would commence with a 5-ft. 6-in. gauge, and go up to a 7-ft. 3-in. gauge.
– We should be a long while opening up the country if we adopted that idea.
– Certain lines might well be built on a narrow gauge, but we are dealing now with main trunk lines. It has been proved that a broad-gauge line i* the best for the rapid transit of troops. According to a most careful computation, although there is a difference of only 6£ inches between the 4-ft 8^-in. gauge and 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, it is possible every time to draw a 10 per cent, heavier load on the wider-gauge line. Spread that percentage over your thousand miles of railway, apply it to a given number of years, and you will find that the difference is most substantial.
– The .wider gauge means additional cost for tunnelling, and so forth.
– There are no tunnels on the east-west railway. In setting about the construction of the line we were afforded a unique opportunity to determine what should be the uniform gauge for Australia.
– Would the honorable member alter the gauge of this line?
– It is too late now to talk of that. Some members of this House favoured a wider gauge, but the majority insisted upon providing for the building of a 4-ft. 8^-in. line. The initial cost of the broader gauge line may be heavier, but it is more than counterbalanced by the advantages which a broad-gauge line affords. I saw the other day a picture of an electrically-drawn train load, -representing a haulage of 3,000 tons, on a 4-ft. 8½-in. line. It is such loads that must be carried over our main lines. The wider gauge allows for wider trucks, carriages, and engines, and thus permits of bigger loads.
The Minister, in introducing this Bill, did not refer, as I expected he would do, to the area of land on both sides of the east-west railway which has been handed oyer as a gift to the Commonwealth. I understand that a strip of land a quarterofamile wide - including the line itself - and stretching from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, now belongs to the Commonwealth. I did not expect the Minister to outline the policy of the Government in regard to that land when he was submitting this motion to .the House, but I trust that an effort will be. made to put it to some good use. The Government should come forward with a policy to provide for its development. I understood the Minister to say it would be possible to considerably shorten the railway journey by the construction of a line from Long Plains to Port Augusta, which would involve a cost of £1,250,000, and which line the State is willing to construct if the Commonwealth will finance it. If the Minister is negotiating for the construction of that line, I trust that he will provide for the adoption of the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge.
– That question is still open.
– I do not know what sort of country that line would pass through, but if the South Australian Government is going to construct it, then I think .that the Commonwealth should not only receive interest on the money which it finds for the purpose, but should have control of a strip of land on either side.
– I am told that a good part of the country is settled.
– The House would have been glad to learn from the Minister the extent to which treated or powellised sleepers have been used in the construction of the east-west railway. If the ravages of white ants are as bad as some fear they will be, the untreated sleepers will have to be replaced in a short period.
– Powellised sleepers have not been proved to be effective. Speaking generally, there has been no satisfactory test.
– What the honorable member says is that, the test has not been sufficiently long to prove the effectiveness of the process.
– In the north-west of Western Australia they have been tried over a period of seven years, and have proved satisfactory. According to reports, they are in excellent condition, whereas sleepers alongside of them that have not been so treated, are in a bad state.
– That is interesting information. It is too late in the day to talk of any opposition to this line, and although I regret’ that’ the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge has not been adopted, I do not intend to oppose this Bill. In Committee, however, I hope that the clause relating to departmental employees will be so amended as to be made more definite. Many employees feel that their position in the service at the present time is somewhat precarious, and, while I am inclined to trust .the management to a large extent, I am opposed to absolute government by regulation. The method of drawing up regulations under this Bill, and a direction as to what they should provide, ought to appear in the Bill itself. I have not been over the route, and do not know the country traversed, but I have heard lectures and read papers about its geological features, and understand that it is the opinion of experts that there flows beneath it, to an outlet in the Great Australian Bight, one of the greatest underground rivers in the world, which can be tapped by boring; and I am pleased to know that supplies have already been obtained by the putting down of bores. Although much of the bore water may be unsuitable for drinking and other purposes as it flows from the bore, it can, by chemical processes, be made as good as ordinary river water. I trust that further investigation will be made to discover water supplies. The Act permits Commonwealth officers to test the country beyond the strip granted for railway purposes, and if they find water in it, to use that water for the railway. In Committee, I shall move certain amendments, which I hope the Minister will accept; and, with this reservation, I now support the second reading of the Bill.
– I congratulate the Minister on the introduction of a useful piece of legislation. The Bill is an indication that, before long, the railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta will be completed, and its completion will give general satisfaction. The line is one of the longest that in recent years has been constructed in any part of the world, including South Africa, and it has been constructed under great difficulties, of which the ordinary public has no conception. We hear it objected that the line will not pay; but I should be inclined to question the sanity of any one who supported the proposal for its construction believing that the line would pay. Some persons have said that it would do well if it paid for the axlegrease used for the trains ; but I think that it will do better than that. The construction of the line was undertaken partly in fulfilment of what was, if not a Federal compact, an understanding affecting Western Australia. Certainly the union of the States cannot be regarded as complete so long as travelling between Western Australia and the eastern States can be undertaken only by ocean-going vessels. Another reason for the construction of the line was the need for the connexion for strategical purposes. Let us consider some of the difficulties which the constructing authorities had to face. It requires some charity on my part to think that those responsible for the original estimate of cost showed business capacity or knowledge of affairs - though I shall not go so far as to say that they intended to deceive the community - when they allowed £4,000,000 for the construction of a .length of 1,050 miles of railway, and proposed that the track should be unballasted, and a 60-lb. rail laid.
– A 70-lb. rail.
– The honorable member for Wakefield has complained that I and other members have not waded through all the papers compiled in connexion with this proposal. My reply to his criticism is that the span of human life is shorter now than it was in the time of Methuselah, and that it is, therefore, impossible for any man to read through the voluminous blue-books which are issued from time to time.
– Provision was made for the ballasting of a certain portion of the line.
– I think that the honorable member is mistaken in saying that. Those who come after us will never have to construct a similar line under like conditions. My honorable friend is playing the role of Jerry Cruncher, the resurrection man.
– For three years I have been trying to prevent wasteful expenditure.
– I shall show that mistakes were made which could not be avoided. As I have said, it is difficult to think that the engineers-in-chief who made the original estimate of .cost believed in their estimate. Does any man who possesses common sense and business knowledge think that over 1,000 miles of line could be built for £4,000,000 and left unballasted? The State authorities have each an efficient staff for the construction of railways, and are in a position to construct lines for themselves, or to have them constructed for them by contractors, according to their individual policies. They have in their service men of great professional knowledge and experience, with reputations to lose. But the Commonwealth, when this line was proposed, did not possess an engineering staff. I do not reflect on the engineering reputation of Mr. Deane. He may have been competent when a younger man to carry out a work of this character; but it was too big for him at the time of life when he engaged on it.
– It has been too big a job for any one who has had anything to do with it.
– The CanadianPacific railway was not too big a job for one man.
– No ; but it was constructed by a company that had a staff of engineers, and could, if it needed, go into the market and get others. The Commonwealth was not in a position to do that. It could not offer constant employment. The Governments of the States. can attract first-class engineers to their service because they can promise permanent employment, but all that the Commonwealth could offer was employment during the period in which the line would be under construction. Consequently, we could get only young, inexperienced engineers, or wasters, and, as I once said, we might as well have put up the notice, ‘‘Rubbish can be shot here.” Therefore what has occurred is not sur- prising. The job was too big for Mr. Deane. To construct such a length of railway from both ends required an immense amount of preparation, which had not been completed when the work was started. No business concern would have commenced before it was ready, but a Government is always subject to pressure, which depends largely on the condition of the labour market, and the Commonwealth Government was being specially pressed- by the Government of Western Australia, which had promised to connect its system with the Commonwealth line, although she knew that she would also have to build other railways for the purpose of opening up her own territory; therefore, this as a reason for not carrying out the agreement does not carry much weight with me.
– It may be an excuse, but not a reason.
– The honorable member is perfectly right. I think that when our finances will permit it would be good policy on the part of this Parliament to request the Commonwealth Government to build the railway and leave it as a charge on Western Australia, to be recouped in time to come. Under similar circumstances I would suggest that the same course should be taken in regard to South .Australia. The construction of this transcontinental line must have meant the expenditure of something like £2,000,000 in Western Australia; indeed, it must have proved one of the most prosperous industries that could possibly be started for the benefit, of the State. It must be remembered that Western Australia made a splendid deal” in regard to the supply of sleepers, the whole of which came from that State with the exception of a few from Tasmania. Further, all the water- that :as necessary in the work had to be paid for by the Commonwealth.
– That was not unexpected.
– Quite so; but I think that, in regard to the water, the Commonwealth might have been given more generous terms ; at any rate, I know that when I was Minister for Home Affairs I felt I .was paying a very good price. We were often told that in regard to this railway the people of South Australia were “ on the make “ ; but while a charge of that kind does not worry me, it would be interesting to look at the true position. The South Australian Government got no advantage from haulage over their lines, because all the material was sea-borne to Port Augusta, and the benefits were reaped by the shipping companies. The sole advantage, I suppose, gained by the South Australian Government was represented by the passenger fares paid by the railway employees on their way between Adelaide and the line. Western Australia, on the other hand, did remarkably well, and I think that now she ought to try to meet the Commonwealth by the construction of the road referred to as soon as possible. A great deal of bunkum has been talked about strategic railways by the honorable member for Cook and others. The only object that the honorable member mentioned had, I take it, was to talk to the gallery, with a view to creating a big wage fund for the workers of New South Wales and other parts of the country.
– Do you believe in low wages for the workers!
– No, I believe in high wages. If I had my way the transcontinental line would have been constructed on the butty-gang system, with the wages fixed between the EngineerinChief, on the one hand, and the representatives of the men on the other. It is a matter of no concern to us whether a man earns £5 or £10 a week, so long as he earns it; but there is a great difference in the case of a man who is paid £3 or £4 a week, and gives a return for only £1. My own opinion is that the workers of Australia, if they had a vote on the question, would be found to be in favour of the butty-gang system. When the conditions are such that a slow man can earn the standard, rate of wage, it is highly desirable that, for instance, a young married man, with a family, who is in his prime, should take every chance of earning a little extra. There is a great deal of talk about liberty nowadays, but I ask where it is in this connexion. A decent worker in the country can do nothing for himself, but is called upon to do much for the benefit of a handful of wasters. Of course, the majority of our men are not wasters, but really good workers; indeed, I am sure that any of our responsible engineers would say that three-fourths or nine-tenths of our men are good workmen, but that amongst them there are wasters of whom they cannot get rid. I am by no means an advocate of low wages, but I strongly object to the presence of wasters to the disadvantage of our real workers.
There is no necessity for me to deal with the difficulties that were met with in this great undertaking of the transcontinental railway. It may. be said, however, that never was a Government so heavily handicapped as the Commonwealth Government has been in the conduct of this enterprise, and it is amazing to me that we have got through in the manner we have. We have to take into consideration the fact that we had the greatest “ messer “ and most incompetent man as Minister for Home Affairs that ever cursed an Australian Government.
The Minister, by this Bill, asks the House to sanction the appointment of a Railways Commissioner, and I certainly think that this is a question that should be very carefully considered. We must have either a Commissioner or an Acting Commissioner, and at present the EngineerinChief performs the duties of the latter office. I had something to do with his appointment, and, therefore, have a good idea of the reasons for it. There are very frequently conferences of Railways Commissioners, traffic managers, engineersinchief, and local engineers, and unless the Commonwealth has a Commissioner, or Acting Commissioner, our EngineerinChief will not be competent to sit in conference with the Railways Commissioners, from other parts of Australia. It will be agreed, I think, that our chief railway officer should not in any way be regarded as subordinate to the other railway officers of Australia, and it was for that reason the Engineer-in-Chief was appointed Acting Commissioner. I know that in making these remarks I am striking pretty rough ground, because the Minister for Works and Railways is credited with being a shrewd and able business, man. However, I do not agree with his idea that we ought not to create a new office of Railways Commissioner. What work would such an official have to do ? He is to operate a road which we know will not be a very paying one, and; even when tha’ connexion is made between Oodnadatta and the Katherine, we shall only be adding another railway that cannot be favorably regarded from a purely business point of view. When there are railways running through populous centres, as is the case in the States, it is necessary that there should be the best Railways Commissioners that it is possible to obtain at the requisite salaries. When a good man is secured, £”1,000 or £2,000 is neither here nor there, because he can very quickly save his salary. On the other hand, if we pay a man £1,000 or £2,000. and he is only a £300 a year man, as sometimes occurs in public affairs, the case is very different. I cannot see any advantage in or any justification for appointing a first class Railways Commissioner in the case of the transcontinental line, and I suggest that the present EngineerinChief, who is now doing the work, should be appointed as Commissioner. We know that this gentleman is one of the ablest engineers in Australia, and we are to be congratulated on enjoying the advantage of his services. It would be foolish to spend money on an appointment for which there is no necessity.
Of course, if I were speaking of any of the other railways in Australia I should not argue in this way; but, at the same time, we know that a lot of humbug is talked about Railways Commissioners. Without mentioning names, and leaving honorable members to fill in the details themselves, we know that there have been cases of Railways Commissioners being deprived of their office for what was considered the unsatisfactory conduct of the railways, and of their being succeeded by a real gold-edged official from England, Canada, Egypt, America, or elsewhere. The new man is shrewd, and when he comes out and looks round, he says to himself, “ Well, I have got a job for five or seven years, and I must make hay while the sun shines; I must put up a record.” The first thing he does is tlo reduce his repairs bill as much as he can. He tells the Government ‘ that the railways are in a terrible condition, and that he must have 100 locomotives or the world will come to an end. He gets those new engines, and he makes a saving in his repairs bill. He abolishes the whole of the portering staff on country stations, and slows down the trains so that the guard can do the portering work. Then he says to the Government, “ Consider what I have saved.” At the termination of his engagement he disappears, and the old staff has to be brought in to do the belated repairs, and put things in order generally. Then the Department resumes at the old jog trot until the newspapers conclude that it is time to stir it up” again, and get another foreigner imported. I have been watching the game for some years, and I am surprised that Parliament and the people do not see through it.
As a result of my observations of railway management in South Australia, I have come to the conclusion that the best railway commissioner is a traffic man; and if I were appointing a Commissioner, I would consider no one else. Railway management is a shrewd business, and a Commissioner can always get expert advice from his engineers. So far as we can see the Commonwealth Commissioner will have only three railways to operate, assuming that the Northern Territory line will be completed. If it is not, he will have a line with two dead ends, and if a business man were called, in to manage a job like that it would drive him mad. We should not indulge in a lot of fireworks, because if we do the people will only be disappointed. They will say that, although we have this wonderful Commissioner, he has not improved the revenue. He cannot improve the pastoral country along the east-west line. The Government will do well to appoint an Acting Commissioner, and until conditions materially improve the Department should be carried on very much as it is at present. When the construction of this line is completed, there should be a tremendous reduction of the staff, because we shall not require the .same number of men for working the line as for building it.
In regard to revenue, members from Western Australia and South Australia know the nature of the country through which the line will pass? and what may be expected from it. Honorable members may talk about the revenue not being satisfactory to commence with, but I believe that it will materially increase. I would not recommend the Government ‘to look for any great results from oil wells which, we were told, are the product of former sea forests, but the railway will have the result of opening up the country, and that is one of the best things we can do for Australia. If we can extend the railway from Oodnadatta northwards, every additional 100 miles of railway we construct will mean more stock trains, and afford opportunities for new areas of pastoral country to be taken up. Development of that character would be of great benefit to South Australia. All the leading pastoralists and’ graziers to whom I have spoken have urged .the extension of the Oodnadatta line, so that they may be able to shift their stock to South Australia. Mr. Kidman, who is recognised as one of the ablest and shrewdest men in the cattle industry, informed me that, at times, he has shifted stock nearly halfway across Australia in order to put them, on better country, and he had been well repaid for the expense. The pastoralists who will make money in future are those who have a certain amount of capital to operate upon, and are able to shift their stock when droughts and other causes necessitate that being done. The Nullabor Plain is good salt-bush country and sheep will do well on it. That country can be profitably occupied if it is worked in conjunction with station properties in other parte of the country. The more country we can have occupied the more revenue there will be for the railway. Honorable members need not. be pessimistic in regard to the revenue. It may be a long time before the railway is paying, but there is no reason why, in a few years, it should not be a much better revenue earning proposition than it can be at present.
– Would you r>ut returned soldiers along the railway ?
– It is not a poor man’s count,rv, and it would be of no use to place returned soldiers there, or for the honorable member to recommend his Sydney friends to go upon this land in the hope of making a pile.
Another matter of considerable importance is the working conditions of the staff. There will be long stretches between the stations, and there will be certain depots where engines will be changed. At those depots there will be small aggregations of population. Naturally most of the staff will be anxious to be located at Port Augusta or Kalgoorlie, and it will be difficult to induce married men to accept employment at the more isolated places along the line. Having regard to the conditions that will obtain at some of the smaller stations, I do not think we shall be doing credit to ourselves if we place women there, if we can possibly avoid doing so. Mv suggestion is that the Department should have a system of transferring officers every two or three months from the noor stations to the good ones, so that all may get an equal share of the advantages and disadvantages of the service. By that means the Commonwealth might be able to get an efficient and contented staff,- but if some men are allowed to continually occupy positions at Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, and at the depots, whilst others are obliged to stay in less congenial surroundings, the management will not be employing the best. ‘ method of dealing with its servants.
The question of classifications was raised by the honorable member for Wakefield. The explanation of the classification is very simple. The Commonwealth was commencing to build a new railway system, and we were getting together a staff for the railway. There were higher rates of wages in Western Australia than in South Australia, and a promise had been made to the engine-drivers, firemen, and cleaners, and to the traffic men, that they would be classified, so that they would know their status and their rates of pay. The conference took place during my administration of the affairs of the Department of Home Affairs. It was thought that it would be a very good step to hold one. The men were putting forward all sorts of extravagant ideas in regard to wages, evidently on the principle of the Cockney Jew who, in the first instance, asks a tremendous lot for his wares, so that the price will ultimately stand reducing by half; and it was essential that some principle should be fixed. The Governments of South Australia and Western Australia were anxious that a rate of wages should not be fixed by the Commonwealth Government that would attract their employees. The Government might have said, “ There is the fixed rate of wages, take it or leave it : “ but that policy would have led to strained feelings. I believe in holding these conferences. The Prime Minister has pursued the same policy in regard to shipbuilding. It is far better to go down and talk with the men and make arrangements with them than to say, “ We want so-and-so done. If you do not like to do it you oan leave it.” That sort of policy has always led to trouble. No Minister lowers his dignity by appointing one of his officers to. confer with any of Hia staff for the purpose of coming to an understanding. It is another thing if he allows himself to become an animated rubber stamp, and to be practically dictated to by a trade organization,’ officially or unofficially. At any rate, the conference which met did a great amount of good.
I would like to refer to the question of strategic railways, of which mention has been made during this debate. One could hardly appeal to any military officer of any standing without his pointing out. the strategic reason for the building of the east-west railway. Mr. Fisher was very strongly in favour of the policy of strategic railways, and I am a strong supporter of them. I know that we cannot go into matters of this character during the life of this -Parliament, but. if the war is over when the next Parliament assembles it should be one of the most important questions to be considered. The spending of money on arsenals will be useless until something is done in this direction. It would be impossible for a military officer to move 40,000 troops and their guns and equipment across Australia within a reasonable. time with the breaks of /gauge that now exist. When Mr. Fisher was Prime Minister a survey was made for a line from Brisbane to Port Augusta connecting with the New South Wales system at Hay and the Victorian system through Deniliquin and Echuca.. By building that line we could move troops and their guns and equipment to Perth without having any break of gauge. Considerable objection was raised to the proposal. What would suit one State did not suit another. T was inundated with requests from New South Wales that the line should .connect with. Broken Hill; but what would be the strategic purpose served by that connexion? The object of our legislation is to educate OU] people to a higher plane. The time will come when the people of Australia will demand that this question of strategic railways shall be considered in spite of the objections of various States. The line proposed would not be a military railway solely, which I considered it .would be when it was first projected. To a leading grain merchant to whom I was speaking about it, I said that the weakest point was that it would be of no great advantage from a commercial point of view; but he said, “ Do not make any mistake about that. The railway will be a paying concern because of its long hauls. . It is roads with long hauls that are paying in America. The mistake in Australia is that we have no long hauls to the .ports.” This was a revelation to me. Looking at the matter from this aspect the strategic railway proposed will be worth considering from a commercial point of view.
We should build railways for strategic purposes on the principle adopted by the Czar Nicholas, who ruled in Russia when the first railways were built in that country. When his engineers asked him how he proposed to have them built, he took a ruler and drew a straight line from Moscow to a certain port, saying, “ I want the railway to go that way.” He did not want, the railway to go in curves all over the place. I do not say that it is a sound policy to follow that principle- absolutely. It would bc sheer insanity if we did not make a detour at certain parts in order to run into better country ; but if honorable members will look at the map that accompanied the report presented by Mr. Combes in reference to the strategical railway connecting Port Augusta with Brisbane, viti Hay, and glance at the type of country that the line will pass through, they will see that there is a prima facte case made out from a commercial point of view for the building of the line, while at the same time it will follow the most direct route possible.
– What about the railway gauge f
– The gauge will be the 4-ft. 8$-in gauge. In the abstract I am in favour of the South Australian gauge of 5 ft. 3 in., bub the answer to the honorable member’s question is the one that- was given at the time the Bill authorizing the construction of the eastwest railway was passed. It was shown that the advantage of the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge was that it was .the standard gauge of the world. I know that there are differences of opinion among the engineers as to which is the best gauge to adopt, and that some advocate a 6-ft. gauge, and others a 6-ft. 3 -in. gauge, while in Great Britain, in the case of the GreatWestern railway, a 7-ft. gauge was adopted, although it was taken up many years ago on the ground that it was considered to be unsatisfactory. . But what- 1 wish to lead up to is this : Twenty years ago there were about twenty different gauges in America, and they have now been reduced to about three or four, while they are all gradually working down to the 4 -ft. 8½-in. standard. Again, in the Argentine, there were seventeen different gauges, and these are all being replaced by the 4-ft. 8½-in. standard. All this snows that there is a tendency amongst railway managers to adopt a uniform standard. One of the obvious reasons for this step is that the rolling-stock is on a standard gauge, and if rolling-stock is urgently required it is simply a matter of cabling, and in normal oonditdons when there is no war in progress a duplication of the plant can be secured in a few weeks. In the nature of things that in itself justifies our adoption of . the standard gauge, even thoughthe5-ft. 3-iu. gauge of South. Australia is a remarkably good one. I do not think that I need refer to any other matter at this stage. This is very largely a Committee Bill, and there will be ample opportunity to deal with various matters in detail when we reach the Committee stage.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Heitmann) adjourned.
House adjourned at 3.46 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 July 1917, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1917/19170727_reps_7_82/>.