9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Conference at Geneva.
– Has the Prime Minister received any official message from Geneva about the discussions which have been taking place there in the Assembly of the League of Nations ? If so, is he in a position to make a statement to the House in regard to the matters discussed.
– I have been receiving communications constantly from Sir Littleton Groom with regard to the proceedings of the conference of the Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva. I received one within the last hour dealing with the question which has been given great prominence in the press during the last two days, the framing of the protocol which it is proposed to refer to the governments of the various nations that are members of the League. That cablegram, however, is so mutilated that it is impossible to discover from it exactly what the position is. I hope to be able to make to the House in the course of the next few days a statement with regard to the developments which have taken place.
– The Treasurer has announced the issue in London of treasurybills for £2,000,000 at 3½ per cent., and for £1,000,000 at 4 per cent. These will have to be covered by a loan at some future date. I ask the honorable gentleman whether the business has been carried out by stockbroking firms or by the London branch of the Commonwealth Bank ?
-The Commonwealth Bank does the whole of the. banking business of the Commonwealth in London.
– In view of the statement made yesterday by the Minister for Trade and Customs relating to an alteration under a customs regulation of the proportion of British manufacture required in imports from Great Britain to secure the preference given to such imports under the tariff, I ask the Prime Minister whether the regulation will be gazetted and laid on the table immediately, so that Parliament may have an opportunity to discuss it, or is it the desire of the Government to materially alter the incidence of the tariff without submitting the matter to the House ?
– The question the honorable member has raised was referred to by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) last night, and I then said that the Government would consider whether it would be possible to find an opportunity to permit the House to discuss the whole matter.
– In the absence of the Postmaster-General I have addressed questions to the Minister representing him on the subject of the delay in the delivery of telegrams, and I mentioned that in one case sixteen and a half hours were occupied in sending a telegram from Melbourne to Adelaide. Will the PostmasterGeneral make himself conversant with the questions which have been asked on this subject and supply an answer to them at the earliest possible moment?
– I shall look into the matter to see exactly what the position is and shall let the honorable member know the result.
– In view of the fact that Commonwealth loans will be maturing in London this year, and that the exchange difficulty in connexion with the marketing of our products is likely to become more acute. I ask the Prime Minister if the Government will consider whether it is not possible to arrange with financial institutions to float a loan in Australia, and use the money to equalize exchange ?
– The honorable member’s question should more properly have been addressed to the Treasurer. I remind him that an arrangement was come to by the council representing the Commonwealth and State Governments with regard to loans to be issued in Australia on their behalf during the present year. The amount of loan money which could be raised in Australia without detrimentally affecting persons requiring money for private purposes was considered by the council, and a decision arrived at. I am afraid it would be impracticable to give effect to the suggestion that the honorable member has made.
Board of Directors
– In view of the fact that the Prime Minister made the bill to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act an urgent measure, I ask when he is going to announce to the House the personnel of the board of directors of the bank.
– I hope to do so at a very early date. The Government has been anxious in constituting the board to obtain the services of directors who will command the confidence ofthe whole of the people of Australia, and it is for that reason that the appointment of the board has been delayed longer than we otherwise should have wished.
– I have before me a telegram which states that men employed in the telegraph section of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department are being retrenched, and it is expected that 200 or 300 more will be put off shortly. Can the Postmaster-General give the House any information as to why this retrenchment is taking place?
– It is not the intention of the department to put any men off. The information conveyed by the wire which the honorable member has received is, therefore, not correct.
– I ask the Treasurer when will the Superannuation Bill be tabled, so that members of the House who are interested in matters affecting the Public Service can give it reasonable consideration ?
– As soon as it is possible to introduce the bill it will be introduced.
Rescue of White Women
– When is it expected that information will be given to this House and the country generally respecting the expedition sent by theHuddersfield to rescue the white women reported to be held in captivity by the aborigines of the Northern Territory?
– As the honorable member knows, the John Alce some days ago proceeded from Darwin to the assistance of the relief expedition, and it is hoped that information will be available in the very near future.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
. Will he state-
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister for
Defence, upon notice - 1.Is it a fact that draughtsmen from the Imperial Ordnance Survey Department, England are being brought to Australia by the Commonwealth Government in connexion with the preparation of a series of maps?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
This scheme provides for -
The proposal was that the Commonwealth, in the first instance, should find the money, that the Commonwealth’s quota be one-fifth, the remaining four-fifths to be borne by the five mainland states in the proportion that the population of each state bears to the population of the whole of the five states.
South African Reciprocity
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What was the value and country of origin of the following imports for 1921-2, 1922-3, 1923-4: - (a) Rubber goloshes; (b) rubber sandshoes; (c) rubber boots;(d) plimsolls; (e) rubber tyres.
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– This matter is receiving the earnest consideration of the Government. There are several difficult problems involved. It is my intention to go very fully and sympathetically into the whole matter during the coming recess.
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– On the 19th September, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook) asked the following questions : -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : - 1 and 4. The proposals submitted to the House in connexion with the reciprocal tariff agreement with Canada provide for this. 2 and 3. The information sought is not available locally.
The following paper was presented: -
Canada - Application to Canada of British Preferential Tariff and Intermediate Tariff - Report on proposal by the Tariff Board.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public WorksCommittee Act 1013-21, the following work bo referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, for its investigation and report thereon, viz.: - Establishment of the Royal Australian Air Force Station (No. 2), at Richmond, New South Wales.
The scheme prepared by the Air Board for the aerial defence of the Commonwealth includes the establishment of an air force station in the vicinity of Sydney. Richmond has been chosen as the most suitable locality for such a station, which in time of war would be a base for the operation of air units defending from attack by air and sea the important commercial and strategic centres of the Sydney and Newcastle areas. The advantage of this particular site, apart from its accessibility and suitability for flying purposes, is that, while in effective working range of Sydney and within striking distance of Newcastle, it is immune from naval bombardment, and consequent disorganization. It is, also, within convenient distance of Sydney for the raising and training of personnel in peace time. The proposal provides for the establishment over a period of five years of a nucleus of units comprising squadrons for fighting, single-seaters for light bombing and for co-operation with military forces, and a flight for training purposes. In addition, administrative units, such as wing head-quarters and stores park, will be provided. The proposed site is close to the Clarendon railway station, on the Richmond line, about 40 miles inland from Sydney. The area, comprising 175 acres, was originally used by the New South Wales Government for a flying training school, and, together with existing hangars, store, workshops, &c, was acquired by the Commonwealth in 1923, at a cost of £9,318. The buildings to be proceeded with include wing headquarters, hangars, stores buildings, cottages, barracks, messing and recreation accommodation for the permanent officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, and hutting, &c, for the Citizen Force trainees. The type of construction will be wooden framing and walls, with iron roofs, except for the stores, hangars, and guardroom, which will be of brick. The existing hangars and workshop will be repaired and improved, and the officers’ and caretakers’ quarters taken over, but now occupying another site in the vicinity, will be removed and re-erected to conform with the general scheme. The total estimated cost of the scheme, including accessory engineering services, but excluding the cost of acquisition of the property, is £177,400. I lay upon the table papers and plans respecting this proposal.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That a tax, at the rate declared in this resolution, be imposed on every person who, being a lessee, receives, in the financial year commencing on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and twenty-three, or in any subsequent financialyear, any payment for, upon or in consideration of, the assignment or transfer of a lease to any other person after deducting therefrom -
the part (if any) of such amount which, in the opinion of the Commissioner of Taxation, is properly attributable to the transfer to him of any tangible assets belonging to the lessee (not including the unexpired portion of the lease assigned or transferred); and
so much of any fine, premium or foregift paid by the lessee or any amount paid by the lessee for the assessment or transfer of the lease as is properly attributable to the period of the lease unexpired at the time of the assignment or transfer by the lessee.
That the rate of the tax shall be ascertained as follows: -
(i) Where not less than one-third of the payment for, upon or in consideration of, the assignment or transfer of the lease is received in any financial year, the amount of the whole payment for the transfer or assignment, after making the deductions referred to in the last preceding clause, shall be divided by the number of years of the unexpired period of the lease as at the date of the making of the agreement for the assignment or transfer, or the date when the assignee or transferee became the lessee in respect of the lease so assigned or transferred, whichever is the later, and the amount so ascertained shall be added to the amount of income derived by that person during the financial year in whichthat part of the payment is received;
The rate of income tax which would, under the law of the Commonwealth, be applicable to the aggregate amount ascertained under the last preceding subparagraph, if the whole of that amount were income, shall be the rate of tax payable under this resolution upon that part of the payment so received;
Where less than one-third of the payment for, upon or in consideration of, the assignment or transfer of the lease, is received in any financial year, the rate of tax upon the amount so received shall be the rate which would be applicable, under the law of the Commonwealth, if that amount were income and were included in the income derived by that person during that financial year.
That the law for the time being in force relating to the assessment and collection of income tax shall apply to the assessment and collection of the tax imposed by this resolution.
That this resolution shall not apply to the proceeds of the assignment or transfer of -
the lease of a mining property (other than coal mining) where the Commissioner of Taxation is satisfied that the leasehas been assigned or transferred -
by a bona fide prospector; or
by a person, partnership, syndicate or company that does not make a business of buying or selling mining properties, and that purchased the lease from a bona fide prospector and worked the property in a proper and efficient manner; and
a lease from the Commonwealth or a State being a perpetual lease without revaluation or a lease with a right of purchase.
That where estate duty is paid under any law of the Commonwealth upon the amount calculated for the purposes of estate duty as being the value of a lease forming part of the estate of a deceased person and the lease is assigned or transferred by the executors, administrators, or trustees of that estate orby a beneficiary entitled to the lease, the tax under this resolution, in respect of the payment made for, upon or in consideration of, the assignment or transfer of the lease, shall be payable only upon the amount (if any) by which that payment exceeds the amount calculated for the purposes of estate duty.
That where any person, being a lessee, has at any time prior to the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and twenty-three, received any amount of any payment for, upon or in consideration of, the assignment or transfer of a lease to any other person, a tax be imposed upon that person to the amount which would have been payable under the law of the Commonwealth, if the amount of the payment had been income, and had been in eluded in the income derived by that person during the financial year in which the payment was made.
That where, under any law of the Commonwealth relating to the imposition, assessment, or collection of income tax, in assessing for the purposes of income tax, the income of any person in any financial year, any payment for, upon, or in consideration of, the assignment or transfer of a lease by that person has, prior to the commencement of the act passed to give effect to this resolution, been included as income, the amount of that payment shall be deemed to be and to have been legally included, and the amount of tax attributable to the inclusion of that payment shall be deemed to be and to have been legally paid or payable and to have been tax imposed in accordance with this resolution.
That this resolution shall not apply to the payment made for, upon, or in consideration of, the assignment or transfer of a lease in respect of which any person has, before the thirtieth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and twenty-four -
obtained a judgment of the High Court in his favour in respect of his right to a deduction of the value of the lease so transferred or assigned by him; or
applied to the Commissioner of Taxation for the transmission to a court of an objection to the taxation of the value of the lease so transferred or assigned by him.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Bruce do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page, and read a first time.
. - (By leave) - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The necessity for this Bill arises out of a recent judgment by the High Court in what is known as the Dalrymple case. In that case the appellant had sold a lease of his pastoral property, and the Commissioner of Taxation had. demanded, under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1915- 1921, payment of income tax upon the part of the total amount received by the vendor which represented the value of his leasehold estate in the property. Mr. Dalrymple claimed that he could not be taxed on the amount in question because
Money derived by way of royalty or bonuses, and premiums, fines or foregifts or consideration in the nature of premiums, fines or foregifts demanded and given in connexion with leasehold estates.
To that the following words were added: -
And the amount of any payment received by a lessee upon the assignment or transfer of a lease after deducting therefrom -
The part (if any), which, in the opinion of the Commissioner is properly attributable to the transfer of any assets belonging to the lessee.
The judgment of the High Court in the Dalrymple case does not in any way affect the deduction allowable to a purchaser of a lease. It merely excludes from taxation the amount received by a vendor. The revenue, therefore, suffers by losing the tax from the vendor, and by losing the tax from the purchaser through the allowance to him of a deduction in his assessment, thereby reducing his taxable income. Acceptance of the Dalrymple judgment for application to all past assessments would involve the Treasury in refunds exceeding £100,000, in addition to the heavy expense which would be incurred in amending the assessments. As announced in the budget speech, the Government has decided to introduce suitable legislation for validating all past assessments of this tax, and for continuing the tax in the future in a form free from possible constitutional objections. Clauses 6 and 7 of the bill will validate all previous assessments. Clauses 2. 3 and 4 deal with the imposition .of the tax in future years. Clause 8 permits Mr. Dalrymple to retain the benefit of the judgment of the High Court in his appeal, and allows a similar benefit to any other taxpayer who has applied to the Commissioner of Taxation for transmission to a court of an objection to his assessment on the value of a lease transferred or assigned by him. Thirteen persons applied for transmission of their appeals to the court and will benefit by this provision. If the judgment of the court were accepted, and applied to all past assessments, it would be essential to amend the law to discontinue the deduction allowed to the purchaser. Otherwise it would be very simple for any person so minded to enter into fictitious arrangements whereby all hia income would be absorbed by the deduction allowable to a purchaser. The Government considers that it would not be reasonable to discontinue the allowance of the deduction to the purchaser, and it consequently proposes to continue the imposition of the tax. The bill before the House provides for the imposition of a tax on the profits on the transfer or assignment of leases, separately from the imposition of the income tax. This course has been taken so that ‘ the validity of the tax under section 55 of the Constitution cannot be successfully challenged. The Income .Tax Assessment Act will thus deal with what is generally recognized as income, while this bill deals with another class of receipts which it is considered desirable should be taxed. Clause 2 introduces a new method of assessing the amount of tax payable. Provision is made for those cases in which not less than onethird of the payment is made when the sale takes place. In such cases, the total amount to be paid is divided by the number of years that the lease has still to run, and the amount thus ascertained is taken into account in determining the income tax rate for that year on the total part of the total payment which is assessable in that year. In those transactions in which less than one-third is paid, the instalments themselves are taken into account for similar purposes. That provision does not apply to the past, but only to the future. The proposed tax will not apply to the proceeds of the sale of the lease of a mining property, other than coal-mining, where the Commissioner of Taxation is satisfied that the lease has been assigned or transferred -
by a bona fide prospector; or
These exemptions were in the Income Tax Assessment Act, and have been transferred from that act to this bill. It is also proposed to exempt the proceeds of the sale of leases from the Crown which are leases with a right of purchase or perpetual leases without revaluation of rent. These classes of leases are to all intent* and purposes freeholds, and as it is not the policy of the Income Tax Assessment Act to tax profits on the sale of freehold lands, or to allow any deduction in tho assessment of a purchaser of a freehold in respect of any part of his purchase price, these particular classes of leases will be dealt with as freeholds. A vendor of either of these classes of leases will not be taxed, and the purchaser will not receive any deduction in respect of the proceeds of the sale.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Gabb) adjourned.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 30th September, vide page 4906) :
Clause 14 - (1.) Section ninety-five of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after sub-section (2.) thereof the following sub-sections: - “ (3.) In every case in which the amount of tax from which the taxpayer applies to be re- leased is not less than Five hundred pounds, the Board shall, and in any case in which the amount of tax from which the taxpayer applies to be released is less than Five hundred pounds, the Board may refer the application to a member of a Board of Appeal constituted under this Act. “ (4.) The member of the Board of Appeal who shall have jurisdiction to deal with applications referred under this section shall, at the discretion of the Chairman of that Board, be the Chairman or such other member as he authorizes in writing to deal with the application. “ (5.) The member of the Board of Appeal may require the taxpayer to appear before him, either in person or by a representative, and may examine the taxpayer upon oath concerning any statements which the taxpayer has, or may desire to have, placed before the Board constituted by this section.
Section proposed to be amended - (1.) In any case where it is shown to the satisfaction of a Board consisting of the Commissioner, the Secretary to the Treasury and the Comptroller-General of Customs - (a.) that, a taxpayer liable to pay income taxhas become bankrupt or insolvent; or
.- I support the view expressed by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) yesterday. Under this clause a member of the present board of appeal, appointed under the original act, who is answerable only to Parliament, and has power to review decisions of the Commissioner, may beasked to investigate certain matters and make a report on them to the Commissioner. These proposed new sub-sections make the members of the Appeal Board, who, in some matters are superior to the Commissioner of Taxation, subordinate to him. That is placing them in an invidious position, and it is lowering the dignity and status of a board which was appointed for a specific purpose, and made answerable only to Parliament. It would be much better if the matters referred to in this clause were submitted to the whole board, to be dealt with as it thinks fit. I therefore move -
That the words “by inserting after subsection (2.) thereof the following sub-sections: - “ (lines 1-2), and sub-sections (3.) and (4.) be omitted, with a view to the insertion of the following words in place thereof: - “by omitting the words from ‘ a Board ‘ to Comptroller-General of Customs ‘, and inserting in lieu thereof the words ‘ the Board of Appeal ‘.”
If the amendment is agreed to, certain consequential amendments to the remainder of the clause will need to be made. The effect of the amendment will be that cases of hardship will be submitted to the Appeal Board as a whole.
– I trust that the committee will not agree to the amendment. Both the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) and the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) are labouring under a misapprehension as to the exact position. The Appeal Board has nothing . whatever to do with the remission of taxation. The remission of taxation has been specifically entrusted by Parliament to the Hardship Board, which consists of the Commissioner of Taxation, the Secretary to the Treasury, and the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs. Under certain conditions, cases in which hardship is alleged may be submitted to that board, and upon it solely rests the responsibility of deciding whether or not there shall be any remission of taxation. The powers of the Hardship Board are set out in section 95 of the act. Not even the Treasurer nor any other member of the Ministry is able to remit taxation. ‘ The three permanent heads of our public revenue departments which deal with the collection of taxation are the proper persons to consider these matters.
– Cannot the Appeal Board remit taxation under certain conditions?
– It cannot; its function is to inquire into- questions of fact associated with the assessments.
– In case of disputes between the taxpayers and the Commissioner the Appeal Board inquires into the facts of the case.
– That is so, and any questions of law are considered by the High Court. The Appeal Board has no authority whatever to remit taxation. The only body clothed with that power is the Hardship Board, and even it oan only act in certain clearly denned circumstances. For a number of years the general public were more or less unaware of the existence of the Hardship Board, and the board had so little work to do that the three members who constituted it were, able to handle all the business effectively and expeditiously; but the position now is that so many applications have been made to it that it is quite unable to cope with them. A number of taxation agents have specialized in preparing cases to submit to it, and the Government considers that the members of the Appeal Board, though not in their capacity as such, could give valuable assistance to the Hardship Board. The Appeal Board is not an overworked body, for ithas had to deal with only 80 cases in the last two years. The proposal is that individual members of the Appeal Board shall investigate cases submitted to the Hardship Board, hear personal testimony from the taxpayers when that is deemed to be necessary, and submit a report to the board. A member of the Appeal Board could interview the taxpayers concerned in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, or Hobart, which would result in economy and expedition in dealing with cases, and submit reports to the Hardship Board. That board alone would say whether or not taxation should be remitted. The members of the Appeal Board will not be asked to do this work for the Hardship Board as members of the Appeal Board; it will be a separate duty. In these circumstances I feel that the honorable member has moved his amendment under a misapprehension.
.- I was under no serious misconception, and in spite of what the Treasurer has said, I submit that if we agree to these proposed new sub-sections we shall place the members of the Appeal Board in an invidious position. They were appointed to discharge certain definite duties, and they are answerable only to Parliament Surely we cannot ask them to undertake other work as well. I do not know whether the Appeal Board members have been consulted on this matter, but I submit that they will be placed in an unfair position if they are obliged to carry out these proposed duties. They are . practically in the position of arbitrators between the Commissioner of Taxation- and the taxpayers, and in the exercise of their duties they are superior to the Commissioner.
– That is in settling a dispute.
– True, but we should not place them in an unfair position. The board, although it should be independent, is to be answerable in some respects to three officials. I recognize the importance of the work done by those officers, but the board should not be made subservient to them. Its members should not be required to do the work of clerkswhen in regard to some of their dutiesthey are superior to the Commissioner.
.- I cannot support the amendment. The clause as drafted deals with the matter satisfactorily. The release of taxpayers from the payment of taxes is a question properly to be decided by the three heads of our tax -collecting departments.
– That is an appeal from Caesar to Caesar.
– No question of anr appeal, or the settlement of a dispute is involved. It is an act of grace to remit taxes that are legally due, and it would be undesirable to mix the functions of the two bodies.
– I. move -
That, after the word “ act,” the words “ and shall notify the taxpayer in writing of its having done so “ be inserted.
This is to enable the taxpayer to know that the board is prepared to hear the appeal.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to -
That sub-section 5 be omitted, and that the following new sub-section be inserted in lieu thereof : - “ (5.) The taxpayer may appear before the member of the Board of Appeal, or the member of the Board of Appeal may require the taxpayer to appear before him, either in person or by a representative, and the member of the Board of Appeal may examine the taxpayer or his representative upon oath concerning any statements which the taxpayer has, or desires to have, placed before the board constituted by this section.”
Clause verbally amended, and, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 15 - (1.) The amendments effected by paragraphs (a) to (k) (inclusive) of section four, by section five, by paragraph (c) of section six, by paragraphs (a) and (b) of section seven, and by section twelve, of this Act shall apply to
Assessments for the financial year beginning on the first day of July One thousand nine hundred and twenty-two, and all subsequent years. (2.) The amendments effected by paragraphs (l), (m), and (n) of section three, and by section thirteen of this act shall not commence until a date to be fixed by proclamation. (3.) The amendment effected by section eleven of this Act shall apply to all assessments made after the commencement of this act. (4.) The amendment effected by section nine of this act shall apply to assessments for the financial year beginning on the first day of July One thousand nine hundred and twentythree and all subsequent years. (5.) All the amendments effected by this act (except those effected by sections two and fourteen), other than those specified in the last four preceding sub-sections, shall apply to assessments for the financial year beginning on the first day of July One thousand nine hundred and twenty-four, and all subsequent years.
– I move -
That the letter “ (k) “, sub-clause 1, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the letter “ (g).”
Sub-clause 1 of this clause makes the bill retrospective regarding assessments for 1922-3 on the following points: - (1) The manner in which live stock shall be brought to account in a taxpayer’s income returns for all years, and the exercise by the taxpayers of a choice between (a) market values and cost ; (b) inclusion or exclusion of natural increase ; and (c) minimum and maximum values of the cost of natural increase. Thereason for the amendment is that, although it was thought last year that Parliament made the election irrevocable, some taxpayers did not think so. They desire an opportunity of again making the election, and the amendment will permit them to do so. Paragraph g exempts the dividends or bonuses paid by companies out of profits on the sale of assets which were not acquired for the purposes of re-sale at a profit. The Government has drawn up a new definition of what are termed “ capital assets.” Take the case of a warehouse which is sold. The profit on the sale is not taxable to a company or its shareholders if the company distributes it, and the Government desires that provision to be made retrospective. The taxation on breeding live stock, when sold in the ordinary course of business, is taken back to 1922, because last year in certain cases live stock have not been taken into account in any way. The clause provides for the disallowance of (a) Bates and taxes paid by one person on behalf of another, and (b) Double de duction for war-time profits tax. Further, liquidators are made liable to pay tax assessed to a company in liquidation. The non-retrospective provisions relate first to the exemption of profits from gold mining, and, secondly, to bonus shares paid out of profits which, under the acts of 1922-3, were not taxable. There are very few of these cases in which the revenue will suffer, and it is thought that the amount involved is not large. Thirdly, these provisions apply to distributions of profit which the Commissioner may deem distributable under section 21 of the act. There is no attempt to make the new method of calculating depreciation deduction retrospective.
– With what the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) said yesterday on the subject of this retrospective legislation, I entirely agree. I thought that he put his case most temperately, and with the essence of fairness. I desire to draw attention to the uncertainty which prevails as the result of legislation which operates back for several years. The Government has the advantage of excellent expert advice when bills are prepared and laid before Parliament. It not only has legal advice, but also has the assistance of taxation experts. If, by the acceptance of this advice, every one it is hoped to catch is not caught - and, of course, the object of such legislation is to catch people - it is clearly unjust that an attempt should be made to catch them by retrospective legislation. If people, who should be taxed have escaped, then by all means let us tighten up the act, but do not make the legislation retroactive. A taxpayer should only have to pay the sum of money which he is legally obliged to pay under the laws of the land as they stand. What inducement can there be to any man to go to the trouble and expense of finding out whether he is legally liable to pay tax, if, after he has done so, an amending measure is passed which makes him wrong where previously he would have been right? The result will be that taxpayers will pay the tax for which they are assessed, and will not go into the question whether they are liable for it or not. They will understand that if they do they may have to pay it as the result of retrospective legislation ; and they will have a distinct feeling of injustice.
Coming, to the section itself, I direct attention to a provision which illustrates the injustice of this kind of legislation. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) did not refer to the matter in the course of his remarks, but I direct the attention of the committee to clause 12, which was passed yesterday, and the effect of which it is now proposed, under clause 15, to make retrospective to the year beginning 1st July. 1922. Section 59 of the original act, which is amended by clause 12 of this bill, refers to a liquidator, and provides that - (1.) Where a company is being wound up the liquidator of the company shall give notice to the Commissioner within fourteen days after the approval of the shareholders for the winding up has been given, or the order for the winding up has been made, and shall set aside such sum out of the assets of the company as appears to the Commissioner to be sufficient to provide for any income tax that becomes payable.
The alteration of that section which the committee made yesterday by passing clause 12 of this bill substitutes for the words “becomes payable,” the words “ then is or will thereafter become payable.” Sub-section 2 of section 59 of the original act provides that - (2.) A liquidator who fails to give notice to the Commissioner, or fails to provide for the payment of the tax as required by this section shall -be personally liable for any income tax that becomes payable in respect of the company. “
By clause 12 of this bill the committee has inserted after the word “ Commissioner “ in this sub-section the words “ within the time specified in the last preceding sub-section.” and by inserting af ter the word “ tax “ last occurring the words “ then or thereafter.” It will be obvious to honorable members that, as a result of these amendments of section 59 of the original act the Commissioner can hold any one responsible for what, in fact, happened two or three years ago. The duty of a liquidator is to realize the assets of a company as quickly as possible. It is a gross injustice that a man who has carried out the duties of his office as a liquidator in strict conformity with the law existing at the time should, two or three years afterwards, be made liable to pay taxation as the result of a measure the provisions of which are retrospective. The position is made all the worse by the fact that the liquidator is to be held “personally liable.” It is his duty to distribute the assets of the company, and if he has done so, it is suggested that he should be liable to be held personally responsible by a subsequent enactment. I know of no liquidator placed in such a position, but I am dealing with the merits of the provision as it stands in this bill. It seems to me that it may cause gross injustice to men who have acted perfectly legally, and within their rights. It may be that the Commissioner of Taxation has had trouble with a liquidator in the past, but itis the duty of Parliament to hold the scales of justice evenly between the Commissionerand the taxpayer. I am not saying that it is not desirable that section 59 of the original act should be tightened up for the future. The committee has agreed that that should be done by passing clause 12 of this bill, but I am opposing the making of the operation of the amendments retrospective, so as possibly to enable the Commissioner of Taxation to catch some liquidator who, acting fully within his rights under the law, has refused to agree with him on this point, and has properly distributed the assets of a company of which he was liquidator. Under the amendments which have been agreed to, such a man will have to meet the liability out of his own pocket.
– Although he would not have acted in his own personal interest.
– That is so. He is to be held personally liable. The committee has agreed to clause 12, no doubt believing that the amendment of the law for which it provides should operate in the future, but it seems to me most inequitable to apply it to the past. I urge upon the Treasurer the desirability of omitting from clause 15 the reference to clause 12 of this bill. I should also like to say a few words with reference to paragraphs a and b of clause 7 of this bill, which are referred to also in clause 15, which we are now discussing. I suggest that this reference to paragraphs a and b of clause 7 should also be omitted. The principle is the same, though I do not think that this provision would cause such rank injustice as the one with which I have already dealt. This deals with the deductions which may be made in calculating income. Sub-section 1 of section 23 of the principal act provides that -
In calculating the taxable income of a taxpayer the total assessable income derived by the taxpayer from all sources in Australia shaft be taken as a basis, and from it there shall be deducted -
all losses and outgoings (not being in the nature of losses and outgoings of capital), including commission, discount, travelling expenses, interest., and expenses actually incurred in gaining or producing the assessable income :
all rates and taxes for which the taxpayer is personally liable (including State and federal land taxes and state income tax) actually paid in Australia by the taxpayer during the year in which the income was derived, but not including any tax under this act, or any war-time profits tax.
Under clause 7 of the bill the words “ or any war-time profits tax “ have been added to paragraph 6 of section 23 of the principal act. I suppose that the object of inserting these words is that there has been a doubt and difference of opinion as to whether war-time profits tax is an allowable deduction. The Government wishes to prevent its being considered as an allowable deduction. It is utterly inequitable thatthis alteration of the law should be made retrospective for two years. It may be a matter of opinion whether war-time profits tax should be allowed as a deduction as coming within the phrase “ all rates and taxes,” but from the very fact that this amendment of the law is proposed the assumption arises at once that the war-time profits tax is legally an allowable deduction, and the amendment is proposed to prevent it being deducted. It might be reasonable to make that provision for the future, but I suggest in this case also that provisions of this kind should not be made retrospective. A man should not, years after he has taken certain action, find himself in the position of having to make provision for payments which he had no legal reason to expect that he would have to make.
.- An amendment which was circulated last night by the Government has come as a shock to me. I find that the Government is running away from its attempt to catch the tax dodgers. I refer honorable members to the clause to be found at the bottom of the page of the amendments circulated by the Treasurer. The most important- portion of this bill from the revenue point of view is the attempt to strengthen section 21 of the principal act in order to deal with holding companies formed to dodge taxation. Honorable members had every sympathy with the Government’s attempt to remedythe flaw in the legislation.. The only criticism of the proposed amendment was whether it was sufficiently strong and effective. We now find that the Government has at the last moment brought down ah amendment which, in effect, provides that the tightening up of the legislation shall not be made retrospective. The bill as drawn was all right.’ Clause 15 contains quite a number of provisions that are to be retrospective. The vital amendment is to omit the words “ by paragraph c, of section 6.” The Government has discovered that it has been cheated of revenue by the formation of bogus companies, and in the last days of the session it proposes to remedy this.- It escaped severe criticism because the remedy was to be made retrospective. While I know that in principle retrospective legislation is not sound, surely honorable members will agree that when the intention of the law is being defeated by the formation of bogus companies it is only fair to make the remedy retrospective. The bill as drafted attempts this, but the Government, although amending the law, does not propose to recover unpaid taxes. I protest strongly against this action. If Parliament, with its eyes opened, had passed a law that did not tax people in the way that they should be taxed, then to pass a retrospective law would be wrong. But Parliament’s intention was that these companies should pay the company rate, and that they should distribute a certain proportion of their profits to the individual shareholders. Bogus companies were formed, and thus the individual shareholders escaped the payment of their just taxes. The Government has introduced an amending bill to tighten up the provisions of the law and to make the payment of the tax retrospective. Now through some pressure it is deleting the amendment providing for retrospective payment so far as it applies to the vital portion of this bill. The Government proposes to allow thepeople who robbed this country to get away with the loot. I use the term “ robbed “ ad- visedly, because it is not too strong to apply to large companies that formbogus companies with the deliberate intention of allowing their shareholders to escape payment of their just taxes.
– Would it not be better to say that these companies are too smart for the legislators?
– That they have proved too smart is not a reason why we should not try to recover unpaid taxes.
– Only a small amount is involved.
– The Treasurer has given no evidence of the amount involved, and I suggest that he does not know what it is.
– Nobody really knows: but I have a shrewd idea of the total loss to the Commonwealth.
– The Government proposes to allow people who have manipulated . their returns to escape their responsibilities by paying at the rate of1s. in the £1 on, in many cases,the whole of a company’s profits. I know of one big firm in this city whose interest, excepting probably 5 or 6 per cent., is in the hands of a holding company, yet it is one of the biggest businesses here. It will pay the rate of 1s. in the £1 when some of its shareholders should be paying at the rate of 7s. in the £1. If there was justification for retrospective legislation, it is in this case. I propose to divide the committee upon this amendment, to ascertain whether honorable members are prepared to allow the Commonwealth to lose revenue without making any attempt to recover it.
– Would the honorable member restrict this retrospective action to bogus companies only?
– When a holding company has taken advantage of aflaw in the law caused through the rush legislation of last year, and has not distributed its profits in a reasonable way, thus permitting its shareholders to pay a lower rateof taxation than they should pay, the law should be made retrospective.
– That scarcely answers my question.
– Retrospective action could not be confined to bogus companies, because it is difficult to define what is a bogus company, and to what extent a com pany is bogus. But we have discovered a flaw in the law because of bogus companies springing up like mushrooms. The retrospective law should also apply to legitimate holding companies who have taken advantage of the practice of forming bogus companies. By allowing people to evade the payment of their just taxes, we shall practically be compounding a felony. What argument can be put forward against making the operation of this clause retrospective? What were the strong reasons that induced the Government to draft the bill making its provisions retrospective to 1922 ? I venture to say that the officers of the Government, the heads of departments, and the men who considered this matter in all its aspects, strongly advised the introduction of this retrospective legislation. I should like to know the reason that has caused the Government to depart from its original intention to recover unpaid taxes. I hope that there will be a strong protest from all sides of the committee against the amendment.
.- I have a distinct objection to retrospective legislation, although it is possible that it may be justifiedin some instances, such as those enumerated by the Treasurer, particularly respecting the method of assessing the value of live stock adopted by stock-owners in the last two years. It is quite possible that a great many of them, and small owners too, have unwittingly fallen into a trap, and have not realized that the system they had adopted from choice was to be perpetuated for all time. In such cases, and in many others of minor consideration that do not involve any serious consequences, retrospective legislation might be justified, but even then I do not like the principle. If the Government has made a mistake in its legislation, it should stand by it. I cannot altogether follow the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) to his conclusions, but I agree with him that if taxation has been evaded by the formation of companies, that really are not bogus - they are not illegal as I understand it - the law ought to be remedied. This matter has been thrashed out thoroughly within the last two or three days, and I take it from the silence of the Commissioner of Taxation that he is aware that the practice of forming bogus companies is spreading and extend- ing every day. I have been amazed at the industry by which the honorable member for Yarra has obtained a thorough grip of this subject, as shown by his second-reading speech and subsequently. It is only right that the Government should place the facts fully before the committee, so’ that honorable members may have some estimate of the revenue lost to .the Commonwealth because of the doubtful expedients resorted to by certain companies. The law should be tightened up to make such expedients impossible. Two or three bills have been introduced in which the principle of retrospective collection of taxation applies. These bills are really parts of one measure. In previous years Parliament has determined in its wisdom that such bills shall be discussed on the second reading as one bill.
– It could not be done in this case, because one bill involves the principle of taxation on capital.
– I am aware of that. The principle of retrospective collection of taxation was involved in the Dalrymple case. That case was before the courts for some time. The highest court finally decided that the principle involved was repugnant to law. The Government has admitted that decision by considerably lessening the ‘application of that principle in the collection of taxation. The Government has admitted that the law was wrong in principle, but it is now introducing an amendment which will validate the principle, but modify considerably the effects of its application. This is an admission that previously burdens were placed upon taxpayers unjustly and illegally. When the policy of the Government was first enunciated by the Prime Minister, he stated very definitely that all lessees who were interested in the Dalrymple case - and many had paid their assessments under protest and the money had been held by the Taxation Department for months - and had started to contest the law, would be exempt. In behalf of certain taxpayers, I obtained an assurance from the Government and informed them that because their objection was before the Commissioner they would be exempt, but that those who had not objected would be made liable, by retrospective legislation of a modified character. Now the Government is providing that those who had not actually and literally commenced litigation, be fore the 30th June, shall be affected by this retrospective proposal. This will give a very bad impression, and it looks to me very like a trick. When the validity of a taxation law is in question, every taxpayer concerned does not incur the enormous expense of individually moving the courts; often by arrangement, a test case is stated, and many of the persons affected agree to share the legal costs. That plan was adopted by some of the taxpayers interested in the Dalrymple case; they decided to abide ‘by the decision of the court, but, because many of them had not actually started litigation, they will be taxable under this bill. In effect, the Government is by this means legalizing an impost which the High Court declared to be repugnant to law. If the tax waa unjust or unreasonable, the immunity from liability should be made retrospective to the date upon which the law first operated. I ask the committee to consider this proposal very carefully. We should not agree to retrospective legislation which involves unjust treatment and serious consequences to many taxpayers
Dr. EARLE PAGE (Cowper- Treasurer [4.37]. - The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Duncan-Hughes) referred to the application of this amendment to liquidators. Section 59 provides that when a company is being wound up the liquidator shall give notice to the Commissioner, within fourteen days, that an order for the winding-up of the company has been made, and shall set aside a sum considered by the Commissioner sufficient to meet any income taxation that was payable by the company. A liquidator who complied with that requirement will have no liability under this provision, but one who failed to obey the law will become personally liable for the tax due from the company. In regard to the war-time profits tax, there is no intention that the amended provision shall be applied, as the honorable member suggested, to disputes between the Commissioner and the taxpayer. We are simply making it impossible for the war-time profits tax deduction to be made twice. At the present time that tax is applied to the year in which the profit was actually made, and the assessments are made on that basis. Without this amendment the taxpayer will be able to claim a double deduction.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move -
That in sub-clause 1 the words “ by paragraph (c) of section 6 “ be struck’ out.
This amendment applies to the cases of which the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has been speaking. Only very few cases are affected and it would be rather difficult to review all the past transactions; indeed, such a review would involve the reopening of all company assessments in order to determine how this clause would operate in such cases. In view of the fact that the revenue at stake is very small, the Government has decided that the amendment relating to the taxation of a company whose distribution of profits is not considered reasonable, shall operate from the 1st July, 1924. We must recognize that the companies which have acted in the manner referred to by some honorable members have done so in conformity with the existing law. If the law contained a flaw, the blame attached to Parliament and not to the taxpayer who took advantage of it. We are now completely closing any loophole that exists. Clause 6, and the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) last night, will make the law effective.
Question -That the amendment be agreed to - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. DUNCAN-HUGHES (Boothby; [4.50]. - I understand that the provision relating to the war-time profits tax, to which I objected, is inserted merely with the object of preventing the duplication of deductions. If that is clearly so I shall not say any more on the subject, for I do not wish to make double deductions possible. I am not, however, equally satisfied on the other point i raised relating to liquidators. I direct the attention of the Treasurer to the fact that under this proposed amendmenta liquidator may be caught at any time it; the future for something he did as far back as 1922. If he did not comply with the law in the past he should be dealt with under the law as it stood when he failed to comply with it; and from now onward he should be dealt with under the amending law, which he knows. He should not, however, be dealt with under an act passed in September, 1924, for something he did on the 1st July, 1922. I move -
That the words “ and by section twelve,” sub-clause 1, be left out.
The carrying of that amendment will prevent the possibility of an official having to pay out of his own pocket for a course of action that he thought to be legal.
– A liquidator can be liable only when he has not given notice and has been informed of the amount that is due. The question is not very vital from the point of view of the Government.
Amendment agreed to.
Verbal and consequential amendments agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
, - I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - 5a. Section eighteen of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after subsection (2.) thereof the following subsection : - (2a.) In this section, a reference to a State shall be read as including a reference to a Territory which is part of the Commonwealth.
The amendment will have application only to those provisions of the Commonwealth Income Tax Assessment Act that relate to the elimination of double taxation by the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Under the existing law, it is not possible to grant a rebate to prevent the double taxation by the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of a person carrying on business in the Northern Territory. No difficulty has arisen in this connexion, because no taxpayer has been liable to pay both the taxes mentioned. In the event, however, of Vestey Brothers reopening their works at Darwin, the necessity for this amendment will arise. It will place the Northern Territory taxpayers in the same position as those of a state of the Commonwealth in regard to double taxation by the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Title: agreed to.
Bill reported, with amendments, and, by leave, passed through its remaining stages.
Debate resumed from 25th September (vide page 4796), on motion by Mr. Bruce -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill has been viewed from various aspects, and it is my intention to draw attention to some points of view that have not yet received attention. In doing so, I hope that I shall not be charged with looking at the matter from the parochial view-point. It is easy for those who have a special interest in public works in a particular place to appeal to other honorable members to take a broad national view, but all such proposals as this must be considered on their merits, with special regard to their probable benefit to Australia. They must also be considered in connexion with the system ‘ of federation under which we live. I fully recognize, as I am sure that other honorable members do - although they may experience difficulty in giving application to the prin-. ciple in some cases - that it is necessary to spend in particular parts of Australia money that is contributed by the people of the whole Commonwealth. That happens every day. When we build a post office in Sydney, or construct waterworks on the river Murray, we engage in a national work and pay for it with money provided by ‘the citizens of the whole Commonwealth. The mere fact that a proposed work is to be constructed in Sydney, or on the river Murray, is not necessarily an objection to it. We must look at the merits, the character, and the object of the work. I shall not occupy time by discussing the desirability of unifying the railway gauges of Australia. There is a general, if not a universal, agreement that unification is eminently desirable. We differ only as to the time, the means, and the method of accomplishing the work. The history of the Australian railway systems in relation to the unity of gauge is one of most unfortunate misunderstanding and state jealousies. In the beginning, Victoria and New South Wales agreed to construct their railways with the same gauge, but, for some reason, that was not done. I do not desire to introduce into this discussion any of the old misunderstandings and unfortunate jealousies which have retarded the solution of this problem for so many years. The first important point I make is that this Parliament should not run the risk of incurring further similar misunderstandings in the future. I fear, sir, that the agreement upon which this bill rests, and the principles to which it seeks to give effect, will encourage and foment misunderstandings, andthat, although the bill is brought forward as an instalment of unification, unless some changes are made in the agreement which it seeks to adopt, we can anticipate, almost with certainty, further misunderstandings and misapprehensions. Surely it is our duty to do everything in our power to prevent the adoption of a scheme which will be open to that objection. The bill rests upon an unfortunate suggestion that the people of Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia made an agreement whose obligations they are not fulfilling. The Prime Minister in moving the second reading of the measure, said that it was proposed that the Commonwealth should pay towards the cost of the work certain sums on behalf of those three states, namely, for Victoria, £819,000; for South Australia, £267,000; and for Western Australia, £177,000. The Commonwealth has no authority to purport to pay any money on behalf of those states upon the assumption that they are not carrying out an agreement made with them. Such a foundation for the bill does not augur well for the future unity of the states in effecting the unification of their railway gauges. The preamble of the bill recites that at a conference of Commonwealth and state ministers held in Melbourne in July, 1920, it was resolved that a commission of railway experts should be appointed to consider and report upon three things: first, the unification of the railway gauges of Australia; secondly, the gauge it was desirable to adopt; and thirdly, the cost of conversion. It further recites that the Commonwealth Government and the governments of the various states agreed to abide by the decision of the commission, and that the parties agreed that onefifth of the total cost of conversion should be borne by the Commonwealth, and that the. remaining four-fifths should be apportioned among the five states on the mainland on a population basis. It goes on to state that the railway commission made certain recommendations with regard to the unification of the gauges to which it is desired to give partial effect. Let us look for a few moments at the terms of reference to the commission. It was authorized, in the first place, to report upon the unification of our railway gauges. What does the unification of railway gauges mean? I suggest that it means the unification of the gauges of railways already constructed, and that it is quite an improper extension of the meaning of the phrase to say that it embraces the construction of entirely new railway lines. It covers the bringing of existing railway lines of different gauges to a single gauge, and that is all. The terms of reference gave the commission no authority to recommend the construction of a new line. I do not say that the commission acted wrongly or improperly in making the sug gestion that a new line was desirable from a railway point of view.
– No exception was taken by either the Commonwealth or the states to its having done so.
– I have conceded that the construction of this line may be very desirable from a railway point of view, but I point out that the states did not agree to be bound by any recommendation made by the commission as to the building of now lines.
– What would be the position where no lines existed?
– I should certainly say that no question of unification could arise. Such a question can only arise where there are two lines of different gauges. The term “ unification “ does not include the relaying and regrading of existing lines of the accepted gauge, yet it is proposed, in this bill, that money shall be spent on relaying and regrading the line from Grafton to Kyogle, which is a 4 ft. 81/2 in. gauge line. That may be a desirable railway project, but it is not in any sense of the word a unification work.
– It is a consequential work.
– I do not agree with the honorable member. The unification proposal does not affect any existing 4 ft. 81/2 in. line. Those lines must be left to the state which built them to maintain. The relaying and regrading of the line from Grafton to Kyogle is no more a unification project than would be the improvement of the Albury to Sydney line, or the regrading and relaying of the Sydney to Moss Vale line. Expenditure on such a project, under the guise of unification, is no more justifiable than the expenditure of money under the same guise on new rails, heavier sleepers, or ballast. I make this point, not in a technical spirit, or simply to show that the railway commission went a little outside the scope of its reference, but to repel the suggestion that Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia have not kept faith with the Commonwealth and the other states. The suggestion that they are not standing by an agreement which they entered into, and that therefore the Commonwealth Government intends to pay out money on their behalf cannot justly be maintained.
It is unfortunate from- the political point of view that it has been made, and the Commonwealth Government is making a grave error of judgment in proposing that it shall pay money on behalf of these so-called defaulting states, when, in truth and in fact, they are not defaulting states at all. Such action will not increase the spirit of union, and that is the only spirit in which the problem of unification can be satisfactorily solved.
The bill has in contemplation the construction of three works. The first is the relaying and regrading of the existing 4-ft. 8£-in. line from Grafton to Kyogle. I have already pointed out that this cannot be considered a unification work. The second work involved in the achievement of the ultimate object of the bill is the building of a bridge over the Clarence River. That work is to be done by the New South Wales Government, so we are. told, at a very roughly estimated cost of £1,000,000. The building of the bridge is not provided for in the agreement,, and, if the New South Wales Government has agreed to construct it, surely it is only reasonable that its construction should be made a condition of the agreement. The admission that the bridge should be constructed by New South Wales is, in itself, an admission which makes it difficult to regard this whole project as an Australian enterprise and part of the unification scheme. The Prime Minister, in his second-reading speech, said that the Commonwealth Government took the view that, as New South Wales would inevitably have to build the bridge to continue its own railway line, it should bear the cost of it. Surely the same reasoning must apply to the line itself. The bridge is the most important part of the line, and, if the cost of building it is agreed to be a responsibility of New South Wales, it would appear to be clear that that state should also bear the cost of extending the line. The third work which the bill has in contemplation is the building of a. new line from Kyogle to South Brisbane. I .submit that that is no part of the unification project. Tt will be observed that the agreement that four -fifths of the cost of unification shall be paid by the mainland states was made by Cabinet Ministers, but it has no legal sanction. If it were a legally binding agreement, it would not be necessary to introduce legislation of this description, and to provide foi the Commonwealth Government paying money on behalf of Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia, for the states which were parties to it would be obliged to pay their share of the expense involved. Seeing that in each of the three states I have mentioned, a change of government has occurred since the conference of 1920 was held, would it not be desirable for the Government to endeavour to make a new agreement with all the states for the complete unification of our railways instead of setting out on the work with a partial and unsatisfactory instalment, such as this must be considered to be.
Another aspect of the case which is not unimportant merits the careful consideration of this Parliament, and in drawing attention to it, I again express the hope that I shall not arouse interstate jealousy. When this work is completed the unification of the New South Wales railways will be complete, and no further expenditure of money need be incurred there. The railways of Queensland will also be of a uniform gauge in so far as interstate traffic is concerned. “Nothing at all will have been done in the other states towards unification, and that simply because 4 ft. 84 in. happens to have been chosen as the standard gauge for unification purposes! If this work is done in New South Wales, so that she has within he.r own borders a unified system, and work is done in Queensland, so that Brisbane is linked up with the only other capital with which she is connected by railway with a line of the standard gauge, what is there to compel those states to contribute their share of four-fifths of the sum to be spent on a general unification scheme? All the work remaining to be done would have to be carried out in the other states. Accepting the estimate of the cost of a complete unification of railway gauges as £56,000,000, four-fifths of that amount, or about £45,000,000, would be the cost of the work to the six states, and the share of New South Wales would be about one-third, or, say, between £12,000,000 and £15,000,000. What inducement would there be for New South Wales, if not under a binding agreement, to pay that sum for expenditure in the other states? The figures are still large, if the estimate of the cost of the smaller scheme - £21,600,000 - is adopted. It may be said that New South Wales would, of course, do the fair thing, and that we can rely on her honour to bear her shareof the cost of the complete unification of the railway systems of the states. But New South Wales might adopt the stand that she had entered into an agreement, and that the other states had gone back on it. Or it might be that New South Wales . would have difficulty in finding the necessary money. She has had difficulty in the past in raising money for objects that were considered desirable. Let me remind honorable members of the position that has arisen with . respect to the North-South transcontinental line. There is an agreement providing for its construction, and that agreement is embodied in statutes passed by the Commonwealth Parliament and the Parliament of South Australia, but from the South Australian point of view, unfortunately, there is no definite time limit fixed within which the work must be commenced. That agreement, which definitely provides for the construction of a railway at the expense of the Commonwealth, was entered into in 1907, and the railway is not yet built. The claim on New South Wales will not be nearly so strong as South Australia’s claim on the Commonwealth regarding the construction of the North-South line, because there is no agreement by New South Wales binding her to pay her share of four-fifths of the expenditure that unification will involve. New South Wales and Queensland have given no formal promise at all, and surely it would be wise to have incorporated in a formal and regular way the promises of those states to pay their share on a per capita basis of Four-fifths of the cost of the whole work. The payment will not be called for unless the work is carried out. New South Wales proposes, under the bill, to accept the benefit of the expenditure to be incurred within her own borders. I suggest that the least she can do is to put her hand and seal to an’ agreement in the most formal way, promising to see the scheme through, if this line, the first instalment of a unification scheme, is constructed. Let me remind the House of the position regarding the proposed railway from Yass to a point on the border of the Federal Territory. There is a statutory obligation on New South Wales to construct . a line from Yass to the Federal Capital territory. Is New South Wales carrying out that work? No. I understand that she is prepared to construct the line if the Commonwealth provides the necessary money by way of loan. These considerations are relevant to the present bill, the object of which is declared to be to give partial effect to the recommendations of the royal commission. The essence of those recommendations is that there should be a unification of gauges in Australia. If this bill is to give effect to those recommendations it should contain a condition binding New South Wales, and, equally, Queensland, to see unification through. And this work should not be done until those states do* what, probably, they will not refuse to do. It would be difficult for themto decline the request from this Parliament that the agreement be amended by incorporating a clause binding them to contribute their quotas of the sum required) for the balance of the work, which will be done in the other states.
There is another important consideration. In 1913, when this Parliament passed the Public Works Committee Act, it adopted the rule that important public works, which were defined as being those of an estimated cost of over £25,000, should not be ordered by the House to be constructed until a very definite procedure had been followed. I admit, of course, that it is open to Parliament to override its own statute by another statute, and it is quite within the power of Parliament to pass this bill without knowing any more of . the route than the description contained in the bill, and without having any means of forming a reasonable idea of what the cost will be.
– We have no estimate of cost by the Commonwealth Engineer.
– No; and such estimates as are furnished are several years old. The only provision in the bill is that the line is to be constructed on the route shown on the sketch-map. If honorable members will look at that map they will see that all it shows is a line going generally northward from Kyogle. The House is not asked to authorize the construction of a line following a surveyed route. The cost of the work will depend on the route adopted, and that will depend on the survey. There is no obligation in the bill to follow any surveyed route. The line to . be approved is only shown by a black mark on the small-scale sketchmap accompanying the bill. It is impossible to say what the line will cost. We have the estimate, made in 1920-21, of £3,500.000, excluding the bridge, but no actual route is determined, and the sketchmap attached to the bill merely shows four or five points that the line will touch. The cost will depend on the route followed, the character of the soil, the quantity of rock met with, the extent of sidings and embankments, the grades, and other particulars. In section 13 of the Public Works Committee Act a. very definite procedure is laid down in these terms - (1.) No public work of any kind whatsoever (except such works as have already been authorized by Parliament, or which are authorized during the present session, and except works for the naval or military defence of the Commonwealth exempted by Order in Council from the operation of the act) the estimated cost of completing which exceeds Twenty-five thousand pounds, and whether such work is a continuation, completion, repair, reconstruction, extension, or a new work, shall be commenced unless sanctioned as in this section provided. (2.) Every such proposed work shall in the first place be submitted and explained in the House of Representatives by a Minister of State, in this section referred to as “the Minister “. (3.) The explanation shall comprise an estimate of the cost of the work when completed,
I suggest that that means an estimate by our own officers, and not by a royal commission together with such plans and specifications or other descriptions as the Minister deems proper, together with the prescribed reports on the probable cost of construction and maintenance, and estimates of the probable revenue (if any) to be derived therefrom, such estimates, plans, specifications, descriptions and reports to be authenticated or verified in the prescribed manner.
Can anybody regard the sketch-map. showing a black line, as an estimate, a proper plan, specification, or report? If the House authorizes the construction of the line without data, it will be acting in the dark, and it will be setting aside the precautions which Parliament itself adopted hi order to secure that public moneys should not be expended without careful scrutiny of the proposals for expenditure. Section 15 of the Public Works Committee Act further provides - (4.) Upon motion made in the usual manner by the Minister or by any member of the House of Representatives the proposed works shall be referred to the committee for their report thereon.
Then the committee has to make its report, and the report must be placed before the House. There is in the act no defi nition of “public work”. It may be said that this is not a public work because the Commonwealth is not carrying it out; that it is to be done, if honorable members please, by a body called the Railway Council. That Railway Council is to have complete control of the expenditure. There is involved in this proposal a surrender by this Parliament of control over expenditure which, I think, is without precedent in regard to so large an amount. Does the intervention of the Railway Council in the expenditure of £3,500,000 of Commonwealth money absolve this House of its responsibility for seeing that there are proper plans, surveys, estimates, and reports supplied? I submit that it does not. Even if it should be contended that a “ public work “ must be a work definitely carried out by the Commonwealth, I submit that the principles of the Public Works Committee Act plainly apply to this case. This Parliament would be failing in its duty if, out of hand, it authorized the expenditure of. so large a sum of money as £3,500,000 by such a body as the Railway Council, when in the case of expenditure by the Commonwealth itself exceeding £25,000, it requires a scrutiny of estimates, plans, and so forth by members of this House and by another place. I move -
That all the words after the word “ That “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - ‘‘the bill be withdrawn in order that tlie procedure prescribed bv the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1921 be followed.”
My object in submitting this amendment is that in regard to this large expenditure of money, ordinary - not extraordinary - and commonplace precautions shall be observed, and further that the lapse of an interval shall be secured during which the Government will be able to go into the matter, not only with the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland, but also with those of the other states, and endeavour to arrive at an agreement for the unification of gauges which will be a real agreement, possible of completion in instalments. In that period of delay it will also be possible for the Commonwealth, if it fails to obtain a general agreement at this stage among all the states, at least to have the agreement referred to in this bill amended by the incorporation in it of the very definite provision that, as this line is being put forward as the beginning of the unification of the Australian railway gauges, New South Wales and Queensland will see the whole work of the unification of gauges carried through. I submit that nothing in the way of unification of gauges should be done in any one state unless that state has definitely and clearly bound itself to unification of the Australian railway gauges generally.
– I find it difficult to believe that a majority of honorable members will vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) requiring the bill to be withdrawn. I have always listened with particular pleasure to the honorable member, because his contributions to debates in this chamber invariably broaden them and lift them to a higher level. I would not suggest for a moment that the honorable member has in this matter hearkened to the still small voice of parochialism. He is a distinguished representative of a very fortunate state. The people of Victoria are fortunate in many ways ; indeed, in some respects they have been rather spoiled. I say that in no unfriendly spirit. They have a network of railways such as no other state possesses ; they have waterways and other means of transport in which the larger states of Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia are lacking. I think sometimes that these advantages cause a tendency to parochialism. It is generally admitted that if we are to develop our country properly, and are to be in a position to defend ourselves, should the occasion for defence unfortunately arise, we must standardize our railway gauges. In times of drought a railway system which would enable us, if necessary, to transport live-stock from Brisbane to Fremantle, would be of inestimable value. By such a system trade and commerce would also benefit to a very great extent. As showing the necessity f or the unification of gauges, I may mention that, in one month at Albury, as many as 834 truck-loads of fruit and vegetables were transferred from one line to the other, and in another month 2,765 tons of fruit had to be transferred from one line to the other at the same place. A very great deal of that fruit was brought from Brisbane, and it therefore had already been transferred at Wallangarra. I am sure that honorable members are agreed that the bringing about of a uniform gauge should be treated by this House in a broad way as a national matter. Australia is not the first country which has had to face this problem. Great Britain and the United States of America have had to deal with it. In the United States of America railways were built originally without regard to the requirements of the future. I think there were seven different railway gauges in America in the early eighties, and it was at about that time that the unification of the gauges of the main lines was brought about. As the Prime Minister mentioned in the course of his speech in moving the second reading of the bill, unification of gauge was carried out over 13,000 miles of main line in the United States of America. It may be said that the unification of gauges in the United States of America had much to do with bringing the states together, bringing the north more closely in touch with the south and the west with the east, making the states really united, and enabling the people to realize that they were one great nation. In Great Britain the same problem had to be faced, and I think it was the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) who quoted from a, report, which I have here, a statement by Mr. Edward Simms, secretary to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, who, at the request of the then Minister for Works and Railways (Sir Littleton Groom), furnished a report on the unification of the gauges. He pointed out that Great Britain had to face the same problem ; that as far back as 1846 the question of unifying the gauges of railways was causing concern to the authorities ; and it was between the years 1870 and 1872 that it was dealt with. In this connexion, the defence point of view has to be considered. I think it was again the honorable member for Capricornia who quoted from Lord Kitchener’s report of the 7th July, 1910. on the defence of Australia his opinion that the existing railways in the Commonwealth, because of the lack of uniformity of gauge, were not advantageous from a defence point of view, but rather the reverse, and might even be of considerable value to an enemy which had temporary command of the sea. At a meeting of a war military railway council held in November, 1914, it waa resolved that -
A military service transporting troops and munitions that, under existing conditions, took ti-3 days, could, if the gauges were unified to i ft. 8-i indies, be accomplished in 23 days, or a saving of 40 days.
The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner said, in 1920 -
H appears to uie to bc unnecessary to estimate for, or consider at present, the adoption of a uniform gauge throughout Australia. The gauges of the existing lines, which run from the distributing centres, would naturally remain its they are for many years to come, even if the adoption of a uniform gauge was immediately decided on, and it would be necessary to consider at the outset the provision .of a ‘Uniform gauge connecting the capitals.*
He recommended various ways in which this might be accomplished. His first recommendation was that Kyogle and Brisbane should be connected with a railway on the 4-ft. 8 1/2-in. gauge. His second recommendation was the building of a 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge line from Albury to Melbourne. His third recommendation was the building of a 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge Une from Hay to Port Augusta, via Crystal Creek, and with a connexion with Adelaide, via Morgan, and he then proposed the altering of the gauge from Kalgoorlie to Perth from 3 ft. 6 in. to 4 ft. 8-J in. The royal commission appointed in 1921 to report on the adoption nf a uniform railway gauge made careful inquiry, and brought in a unanimous recommendation that the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge should be the standard gauge for” Australia. The commission recommended that the first steps taken should be the linking up of the capital cities by the provision of uniform gauge lines, and the conversion of the broad gauge lines of Victoria and South Australia. The Commonwealth and State Governments considered the royal commission’s report in 1021 and 1922, and eventually agreed to the adoption of the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge as the standard gauge. The present Government has, I think wisely, decided that immediate action should be confined to the building of lines which would open up new country, form part of the general scheme of conversion, and have a fair prospect of earning interest within a reasonable period. The railway at present under consideration is the first step in the general scheme of conversion to the standard gauge. It would be quite absurd to claim that the proposed line will he of any great strategical value from a defence point of view, but it is quite certain that every developmental railway which opens up country suitable for closer settlement, and which, consequently, helps to increase our population, must be of immense value, and must do much to solve the problem of our national defence. With our present population, I do not think this country would be justified in building railways purely for strategic purposes. The proposed railway will save 100 miles in the journey between Sydney and Brisbane, and will considerably shorten the time occupied in travelling between those capitals. Any scheme which will result in bringing the capital cities of the Commonwealth closer together must be considered of national importance. The honorable member for Kooyong has expressed the opinion that the people of Queensland and New South Wales should be called upon to give a definite undertaking that they will support the entire scheme for the unification of the gauges of bur railways. The Queensland Premier, .when the agreement referred to in this bill was before the Queensland Parliament recently, stated that the people of that state are prepared to accept their share of the burden of complete unification of gauge from Brisbane to Fremantle. I have personally no doubt that they will be prepared to do so, and that this applies also to the people of New South Wales. The people of Queensland recognize that the task of unifying the gauges must be faced, and the longer it is delayed the greater will be the expense. They realize that the adoption of a uniform gauge will be an excellent thing from the Australian and national point of view. The proposed line will open up large fertile areas, and will provide means of transport for- farming districts which are at present most inadequately served. It will be of inestimable value for the transport of starving stock and fodder in times of drought. For all these reasons it may be said that the construction of this line appeals only to the people of Queensland and New South Wales, but I believe that it will appeal to the people of Australia generally as the first step towards carry ing out a work which must be undertaken, and which the longer it is delayed will involve greater expense. I trust that the amendment will not be agreed to.
– I usually greatly appreciate the speeches delivered in this chamber by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham),, but to-day even his best friends would not give him credit for discussing this proposal in the manner to be expected from one of his standing in the community. His criticism, boiled down, was that it’ the bill were passed there would be a likelihood of misunderstanding between the states, that the Commonwealth was assuming a right to pay certain moneys on behalf of the other states, that unification was never intended to include the building of new lines, and that if the whole scheme of unification were not undertaken the line from Grafton to South Brisbane should not be constructed. In other words, he contended that if we were unable to do every part, we should do nothing.
– That is not so.
– I made a note of the honorable members remarks, and what I have said was certainly a part, if not the whole, of his argument. The purpose of the bill is to ratify the agreement made between the Commonwealth Government and the Governments of Queensland and New South Wales. Although there are 23,911 miles of railway in Aus- tralia, there is a break of gauge in every state. The Commonwealth controls 1,733 miles of railway in its own territory, and including the Oodnadatta line. The length of railways in New South Wales is 5,318 miles; in Victoria, 4,333 miles; in South Australia, 2,373 miles; in Western Australia, 3,555 miles; in Tasmania, 663 miles ; and in Queensland, which state has what is generally regarded as the finest system of railways in Australia, 5,905 miles. In Queensland there are no fewer than four trunk lines, with numerous branch lines running from coastal ports into the interior. We have the Cairns to Forsyth line of 263 miles, the Townsville to Cloncurry line of 481 miles, the Rockhampton to Longreach line of 428 miles, and the Brisbane to Cunnamulla line of 604 miles. In addition, there is a coast line running from Brisbane to
Cairns of about 900 miles. Although the gauge is 3 ft. 6 in., the record of railway accidents will bear favorable comparison with that of any other state. In past years the state governments were short-sighted in not building lines to provide for -the interchange of rolling-stock. During the last twenty years the residents of the Northern Rivers District of New South Wales have agitated for railway connexion with Brisbane. The New South Wales Government has consistently refused to provide those people with a few miles of railway to enable their produce to find its natural market. It has repeatedly been said, that the unification of the railways of Australia would involve a gigantic expenditure, but the Prime Minister has pointed out that the longer this matter is delayed the greater will be the cost. A royal commission was appointed in 1920 to inquire into this problem. It submitted a scheme estimated to cost £21,600,000. It was definitely stated at that time that the scheme besides providing for a 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge included the construction of new lines, the alteration of existing lines, the erection of bridges, the provision of tunnels, and the adjustment of rolling-stock. I ask representatives of states other than New South Wales and Queensland to view this line, not from the stand-point of the benefit to be derived by Queensland and New South Wales by its construction, but with the definite idea of unifying the railway gauges of Australia. The following complete scheme was proposed by the commission: -
Sydney and South Brisbane, via Macksville, Kyogle, and Richmond Gap.
The estimate for this scheme is £21,600,000, made up as follows: -
After considering the difficulty of financing this huge undertaking, and the extraordinary interference with trade that would result from it, the Commonwealth Government decided to submit an alternative proposal. It is common knowledge that it is not the fault of the Commonwealth, the New South “Wales, or the Queensland Government that the alternative scheme has not been carried out. In addition to the scheme before the House, the Commonwealth Government proposed to construct a railway from Port Augusta to Hay, a distance of about 500 miles, at an estimated cost of £4,500,000. The next step was the extension of the transcontinental railway from Kalgoorlie to Fremantle, giving communication over a distance of 3,040 miles, and shortening the distance between Brisbane and Perth by 448 miles, equal to about 36 hours’ travelling. This alternative scheme is a practical attempt to deal with this great national work. It is a national scheme by reason of its value from a defence point of view. The honorable member for Kooyong did not at any time discuss that phase. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), when Minister for Works and Railways, strongly stressed the importance, for defence purposes, of the alternative scheme now suggested. When speaking before a conference of representatives of the states last year, he referred to the fact that the military advisers of the Commonwealth, in advocating this scheme, had made the following suggestions: -
Tho construction of some line between Port Augusta and the oast, which will avoid Adelaide and Melbourne.
A railway line in the Murray basin through Morgan, northward, cutting out Adelaide.
He also said that only a few days previous the military advisers of the Commonwealth had furnished him with the following opinion : -
At the present time the transcontinental railway, through shortage of standard-gauge rolling-stock, is of but limited military value. A connexion with the New South Wales system, which would allow the transfer of rolling-stock, would be of distinct value. The junction of tlie transcontinental system with the 4-ft. S-J-in. system of New South Wales may, from several points of view, be said to give a definite and desirable military advantage.
Mr. Stewart then referred to a report furnished to him by the Inspector-General of Military Forces, in which he made the following comments on the necessity foi; quick transport of material ; -
I consider it my duty to again draw attention to the serious situation which, in the event of her troops being mobilized for the defence of her own shores, will confront Australia through the lack of suitable railway communications, and a uniform railway gauge. Recent conferences inaugurated by the Prime Minister have acknowledged the ultimate necessity of a uniform gauge on commercial and industrial grounds, but do not appear to have fully realized its vital necessity in the interest of the safety of the Commonwealth.
Another advantage of this proposal is that it would largely overcome the existing break of gauges without interfering with the working of the present railway systems. In support of this, I would mention that in 1923, at Wallangarra, situated on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, there were transhipped 102,147 tons of goods, 250,000 head of live-stock, and 99,109 passengers. There is no very great difficulty in transhipping passengers, but there is a real difficulty and heavy expense occasioned in transhipping goods and live-stock. Queensland sends a large quantity of fruit to tho southern states, and each month 30,000 cases of fruit from that state are handled . The proposal before the House is to standardize the present railway from Grafton to Kyogle, a distance of 85 miles, at an estimated cost of £800,000; to construct a line of 27 miles from Kyogle to the Queensland border, at an estimated cost of £850,000; and to construct a line of 70 miles from the Queensland border to Brisbane, a.t an estimated cost of £1,250,000. In addition, there is an estimated expenditure of £600,000 for the alteration of rolling-stock. The total expenditure in Queensland will be £1,843,000. and in New South Wale? £1,657,000’. The liability of the states, excluding Tasmania, allotted on a per capita basis, after deducting £700,000, representing one-fifth contribution by tho Commonwealth, is - New South Wales. £1,127,000; Victoria,’ £819,000; and Queensland, £410.000.
– The amount of £819,000 for Victoria is exclusive of that state’s contribution to the one-fifth share of the Commonwealth.
– The same remark would apply to the figures for the other states. Queensland indirectly contributes to the expenditure of the Murray River scheme, and to the grants to Tasmania and Western Australia.
– That is so.
– The liability of South Australia is £267,000, Western Australia £177,000, making a total of £3,500,000. When the Prime Minister and the then Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) met the representatives of the states in conference they submitted an alternative scheme, which included the railways from Grafton to South Brisbane, Hay to Port Augusta, and also, I believe, Kalgoorlie to Fremantle. As the states of Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia have refused to agree lo the proposal now before us, the Commonwealth Government has promised to advance the proportion those states are liable to provide until such time as they agree to participate in the general unification scheme. It will stand to the credit of tlie Bruce-Page government that it took some definite action to bring about the conversion of a part of the railway systems of Australia to a standard gauge. The Grafton to South Brisbane line will open up some of the best lands in Australia, and the fact that it will dovetail with the general scheme of unification is another commendable feature. It is unfortunate that there should be a difference of opinion in regard to the proposal for no other reason than that the first step towards unification is being taken in the northern states. As a matter of fact, when the whole scheme of unification is carried out Queensland will carry a very heavy obligation in respect of expenditure, the greater portion of which will occur in other states. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) said a lot about the undertakings which the states should give before the scheme is proceeded with. I particularly direct his attention to the remarks of the Premier of Queensland (Mr. Theodore), who, speaking in the Legislative Assembly on the South Brisbane to Kyogle Railway Agreement Bill, said -
There i3 one other point that I think ought to be mentioned in justice to the whole question’ of the uniform gauge, and that is that this is necessarily only the first step towards a uniform gauge in .Australia. We must not think that Queensland is getting a wonderfully good bargain out of it, and that we are adopting it simply because we are getting a good bargain. Wc have entered wholeheartedly into the question of contributing towards a solution of the uniform-gauge problem, and Queensland was one of the few states at the Premiers’ Con ference which were willing to adopt the whole scheme.
In a later portion of his speech Mr. Theodore said -
Queensland was quite prepared to come into the whole scheme, but difficulties arose because of the attitude taken by the Victorian Government and later by the South Australian Government. They were the two states which practically frustrated the carrying into operation the decision of the royal commission.
So that there should be no misunderstanding, Mr. Theodore again impressed upon members of the Legislative Assembly the nature of the contract when he said-
We are committing ourselves with our eyes open to further obligations than the £410,000 which is involved in this agreement when the other states come in and express their willingness to go on with the larger scheme of linking up the trunk lines. Our obligations then will be higher than the amount just mentioned, but, in any event are estimated not to exceed £2,000,000 or £2,800,000.
Those statements by Mr. Theodore show definitely that the people of Queensland understand the arrangement to which they are being committed. In contradiction of some of the statements made by the honorable member for Kooyong I submit to the House these details of the apportionment of the unification expenditure, together with the estimated cost of the work to he carried out in each state : -
It will be seen that from a financial point of view the Commonwealth and the states of New South Wales and Queensland will receive by far the worst of the deal. It is regrettable that Sir Henry Barwell, when Premier of South Australia, should have proved himself to be a “little Australian “ by refusing to even participate in the discussion of this national work, merely because he was of the opinion that the Commonwealth had unduly delayed the commencement of the north-south railway. If they are quite candid, I do not think that any honorable members will contend that it is an urgent project. As a matter of fact, there is a difference of opinion as to whether a definite promise was made by any Commonwealth Govern- ment to build the railway for which South Australia is asking. However, that proposal is notunder consideration now. Having regard to South Australia’s dilatoriness in honouring its promise to survey and make available for selection lands within its borders and adjoining the east-west railway, the representatives of that state should be the last to complain of the breaking of promises. As far back as 1913, the South Australian Government gave an undertaking that as soon as the east-west railway was constructed, certain lauds adjacent to it would be surveyed and thrown open for selection; and it is to the discredit of that state that the promise was so grudgingly honoured.
– The honorable member is talking utter rubbish. That land has been open for selection for 40 years.
– Order ! The honorable member for Wakefield knows that the expression he used is offensive. I ask him to withdraw it.
– I certainly withdraw it.
– I remind those honorable members who have raised general objections to the proposal now before the House, that Queensland is bearing its share of the cost of the east-west railway, and of the extensive locking scheme on the Murray River, which involves an expenditure of £5,000,000 or £6,000,000. I make no complaint of that expenditure, having had an opportunity recently of inspecting some of the work that has been done. 1 think the scheme is highly commendable, and I am sure that the people of Queensland do- not object, in the interests of all Australia, to contributing towards the cost. They are also bearing a proportion of the annual loss of £1,500,000 on the Oodnadatta railway. I do not believe in introducing these little side issues, but when they are introduced it is fair to remember that every state can find some ground for selfish complaint. The bill should be discussed on its merits : and I ask the House to recognize that New South Wales and Queensland will pay as their quota of the cost of unification a sum exceeding the value of the work that, will be carried out within their borders. The other states should welcome the carrying out of the Grafton to South Brisbane railway as the first instalment of a general scheme of unification of railway gauges, which is undoubtedly a great national work.
.- Although I believe in the unification of interstate railways, I am not at present in favour of the unification of intra-state lines, because the country cannot afford the expense. The speech of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) contained much matter that calls for serious consideration by this Parliament before it embarks on a scheme for the unification of interstate railways. This Parliament should first definitely and finally approve of the unification of the three sections of railway that have been referred to. If the Grafton to South Brisbane project is to be the first section to be converted let that be definitely stated in the bill, and let all the states alike be legally committed to it: If that is done, the argument we have had to-day will not recur. I believe the Government would be wise to re-draft the bill in that way. So far as the proposal now before us is concerned, Queensland and New South Wales will be the only states to participate in unification. The obligation should be equally binding upon all states, and honorable members of this Parliament should vote for a composite scheme for the standardization of the whole of the interstate railways from Fremantle to Brisbane. I believe that even the honorable member for Kooyong is agreeable to the unification of the interstate railway gauges. I would be prepared to vote in favour of a scheme of unification that extended from Fremantle to Brisbane.
.- 1. congratulate the Government on the bill. It will stand to the credit of the Government for all time that it is the first Government of the Commonwealth to deal with the problem of the unification of the railway gauges. The problem is of great importance to Australia, and should have been dealt with long ago. One of the greatest hindrances to progress in Australia has been the narrowness of view of many . of -our public men. Although the proposed railway will not go anywhere near my electorate, and will not influence one vote for or against me, I give the bill, because it is in the interests of Australia, my strongest possible support. Tie division list on the secondleading will show, apart from a few honorable members who have apparently been bludgeoned by the press of their states, those who have the necessary breadth of view and those who have not. I cannot imagine that any one who has had experience of our railways in peace time, to say nothing of war time, and who realizes the . enormous losses that result from the want of unification, will oppose the bill. In 1920, I was chairman of the Rural Industries Board of New South Wales, which was distributing large quantities of fodder to farmers who were in difficulties- as a result of the drought and the war. The board purchased large quantities of fodder in Victoria and South Australia, but was unable to get it transported to New South Wales. Every siding between Melbourne and Wodonga was filled with trucks of fodder; but the congestion at Albury was such that the fodder ‘ could not be transhipped. A new siding was built, and electric light was installed so that work could be carried on both day and night. The farmers were losing money, and working stock was dying for want of the fodder that had already been purchased in the southern markets. Such conditions may recur in the future. One fact that was stressed by the honorable member for Kooyong showed that he was not conversant with the facts. He correctly stated that no survey had been made of the route, and he suggested that it was, therefore, impossible to have even an approximate idea of the cost of the line. He has evidently not had so much experience as I have had of the railway surveyors of ‘ this country. Australian railway engineers are among the finest in the world. They are recognized wherever they go as authorities on railway construction. They have had a wide experience in building railways in new country. Sixteen years ago I was in the Philippine Islands, and there a lot of railway construction work was being done under Australian engineers. The men who were in charge of railway construction work in China, and the engineers who were building the line from Capetown to Cairo, were Australians. Our engineers have had experience of building lines through country similar to that between Grafton and South Brisbane, and it is only necessary for them to drive over the country in order to form an approximate estimate of what the line will cost. In New South Wales it used to be the practice to have a careful survey and estimate made of the cost of all proposed lines, but it was found that the officers of the department were so accurate that the survey could be dispensed with. Thousands of pounds have in that way been saved to the state. After going through the country the engineers can form an estimate that is quite near enough for all practical purposes.
– Can the honorable member name a railway that was built without a survey?
– Yes ; the line from Wyalong to Cargellico. I could mention a number of others that are now in course of construction that were not surveyed until after their construction had been recommended by the Public Works Committee. When the war broke out there was no railway from British East Africa, to the German territory in Africa. That line was built over a distance of 380 miles in less than a year; the country was not surveyed, two big rivers were bridged, and the whole of the work was carried out by the engineers going ahead and forming an estimate. A line such as that proposed, in the bill is in a different class from the proposals ordinarily submitted to the Public Works Committee. It is a national line, and it must be constructed whether it will pay or not. Recently the House gave a decided vote in favour of the railway from Yass to Canberra, the construction of which was not recommended by the Public Works Committee. The House would be justified, if it thought fit, in authorizing the construction of this railway without reference to the Public Works Committee. Another matter mentioned by the honorable member for Kooyong was the bridge at Grafton. If he will look at the plan he will see that the bridge will serve not only this line, but two existing lines in New South Wales. Even if this line is not built, the bridge will have to be built by the state.
– What will the bridge cost?
– It does not matter what it will cost. Grafton is largely on the north side of the river, and to build a line from Grafton does not necessarily mean that it will be built from South Grafton, which is the smaller portion of the town. This year over 2,000,000 bushels of wheat had to be transported from New South Wales to Queensland, and the whole of it had to be transhipped at the border. That is an example of the economic loss of the break of gauge. Another statement made by the honorable member for Kooyong was that this line is the only part of the work of unification that interests New South Wales. Again he is wrong in fact. It is of infinitely more importance to New South Wales to have a 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge from Wodonga to Melbourne than from Kyogle to South Brisbane.
– I said that this line was the only part of the unification scheme that is in New South Wales.
– I admit that. If New South Wales had looked at it from that point of view, it would not have consented to the agreement. It would have paid New South Wales to build the small part of the line in that state better than to bear its share of the whole cost of the unification scheme. It is because the New South Wales Government realized the great importance of unification that it accepted its share of the expenditure. Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8p.m.
– The argument of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) that the construction of this work would practically end the interest of New South Wales and Queensland in the unification of our gauges, and that they might not be agreeable to bearing their share of converting the gauges in the other states, was hardly worthy of him. All who are familiar with the history of Australia since the early days of federation will know that a suggestion like that is entirelyunwarranted so far as New South Wales is concerned, for the people of that state have always readily accepted whatever responsibilities federation has placed upon them. Of course, in this matter, New South Wales is on the box seat, so to speak, for her railways are all of the approved uniform gauge; but, at the same time, her people are alive to the necessity, from both the economic and defence point of view, for the general conversion of the Australian railways to the standard gauge, and they will willingly bear their share of the expense of doing the work. The press has given a great deal of publicity to this matter during a number of years. I do not object to tho influence of the press, nor question it3 right to criticize public projects of this nature. A Melbourne . newspaper has lately issued instructions to certain honorable members of this Parliament as to the attitude they must adopt on this bill, and it has directed them to be in their places when the vote is taken in order that they may vote against the measure; but I have a few press quotations which I submit are as authoritative as those which have appeared in that newspaper. I quote the following from the Melbourne Argus of 18th February, 1922: -
The question of the unification of the railway gauges of Australia has been brought up once more at the conference of the Prime Minister with the State Premiers. Its importance can scarcely be over-estimated. The longer the work is delayed the more does its necessity become apparent, and the greater does the difficulty and cost of the undertaking become.
Tho Customs Houses, which Sir James Patterson described as evidences of the barbarisms of borderism, have vanished, but the barriers imposed by the diversity of railway gauges remain and become every year more irksome.
The commission recommended that the work should be commenced by connecting all thecapitals with a uniform gauge, and that is. doubtless, the first accomplishment to be aimed’ at.
Xo Australian can look forward to a great future for his country and conceive of that future being continuously and increasingly harassed and hampered by the present egregious diversity of gauges. The past generation was responsible for the wrong beginning; the present one must commence the work of reform, and. quite possibly, it will be left to the following one to complete it.
In a reply to arguments used by the Victorian Railways Standing Committee in opposition to the unification scheme, the Argus published the following article on the 31st July, 1922 : -
The preliminary scheme would cost £21,600,000, and they declare that the money could be spent more advantageously on reproductive work, which would add immediately to the wealth of the Commonwealth. The obvious rejoinder is that work of such magnitude cannot be done for nothing, and that delay will only make the problem more difficult and the cost greater.
The permanent benefit to Australia as a whole, and not merely its temporary effect upon any state, should be considered. To look at the proposal from the point of view of the immediate present, or of the early future, would be narrow-minded.
If a uniform railway gauge would hasten the development of the Commonwealth, then the prospect of spending even so large a sum as £21,000,000 should not stand in the way.
The fact that we have railways implies that those railways should be complete and efficient. They certainly are not complete nor efficient now, seeing that through traffic cannot be carried on. Mr. Hughes has asserted that if our losses of stock in one drought year could be averted, the amount saved would almost pay for the whole scheme of unification. He probably overstated the case, but great losses have been caused in lean years because it has been impossible to transport speedily fodder from Victoria into the drought-stricken areas of New South Wales.
It has been urged by the Victorian Railways Standing Committee, and other opponents of the scheme, that the times are unpropitious for involving the Commonwealth in such huge expenditure. But the times will not become any more propitious by delay. If the ‘work had been commenced 40 years ago, when Sydney and Melbourne were joined by railway, we would have been better off, to-day. If, through’ timidity, it be delayed for 40 .years more, the cost will bc ten times greater than it would be to-day. Australia is not the only country which has had to face this problem” It has been faced and overcome by Great Britain and America. There was probably opposition to the proposal in those countries, just as there is opposition here to-day; but the people of England or America would laugh at the suggestion that the pioneers who wrought the change acted unwisely. If wo have the courage and vision to follow their bold example, the opposition now being manifested will probably inspire similar derision a generation hence.
Hie uniform gauge is not, however, a mere whim of Mr. Hughes. Its advocates include experts of world-wide experience, members of the Federal Ministry, and tho Premiers of all the states. Whatever objection there is to proceeding with the work immediately is based on the ground that the cost is prohibitive in the present condition of the money market. But there is nothing to hope for by waiting. The money market may become easier a few years hence; but there would then be more conversion work to do, and the apparent benefit would thus disappear.
The mobility of railway rolling-stock is essential to the economical and speedy handling of produce, and any plan which! will give that mobility merits more weighty consideration than has apparently been given to it by the Victorian Railways Standing Committee. It is contemplated to increase greatly settlement on irrigated areas in Victoria; and if it were possible to send soft fruits to Sydney and Brisbane without intermediate handling, the prosperity of the growers would be greatly enhanced, and the value of the land considerably increased. Fruit is “packed” in California to-day and unloaded in New York, more than 3,000 miles away, the refrigerated cars not being opened in the interval. That would not be possible but for the uniform gauge. Goods pass between Canada and the United States as easily as between Melbourne and Ballarat. America realized long ago that a uniform gauge meant reduced working expenses and an enormous saving in maintenance. Australia might as well learn the same lesson now as later. The only issue is whether a commencement should be made now or postponed. The longer the work is delayed the greater will be tlie difficulties and the higher the ultimate cost.
Some strong arguments were used in an article in the Melbourne Age on the 20th January, 1922, in favour of proceeding immediately with the unification of our gauges. I quote the following from it : -
The failure of the Conference with the Premiers to make any progress in the plans for the unification of the Australian railway systems will greatly disappoint the public, which had been led to believe that this great national undertaking was at length to be proceededwith.
It will amaze the people of Victoria to learn that the attitude of their representative was mainly responsible for the unhappy fate of the project. Have the people of Victoria ever expressed themselves in any other fashion but strongly in favour of the earliest possible commencement of the work of unifying the railway systems?
In common with the people of the other states, the Victorian public recognizes that a uniform railway gauge over the whole continent is essential for the future industrial development of Australia; that the job must be tackled, and that the longer it is postponed the more difficult and more costly does it become.
Twenty-five years ago the cost of the whole undertaking w”as estimated at £3,000,000. Ten years ago it could have been accomplished for £20,000,000 less than the estimate to-day.
Every year that the break of gauge is perpetuated adds millions to the ultimate cost of the essential conversion.
The Premier of Victoria has been a party to obtaining the indefinite postponement of the undertaking on exactly the same arguments as have secured its postponement on every other occasion.
The present is not the right time to tackle the problem. The present is never’ the time to tackle anything that involves trouble and difficulties.
The argument that it would be unwise to proceed with the work at the present stage because the cost of material is inflated and labour charges would be high is mere balderdash.
The undertaking is one of huge proportions, and there is so much to be worked out and arranged that, even with the utmost despatch from now on, it would probably be twelve months or more before spade would be put to ground.
The states are not asked to plank down the money immediately to meet the cost of the undertaking. As the work would be spread over many years, so would the financing, and if a slump is to come in the value of money the states would . be just as likely to benefit from it by getting the preliminary work in hand immediately as by waiting upon problematic events.
Next year and the year after there will be plenty of fresh difficulties in the way of starting theundertaking to provide such provincialminded and spineless politicians as Mr. Lawson with excuses and arguments for fresh postponements.
Mr. Lawson’s attitude towards the unification of the railway gauge is not the attitude of the people of Victoria. Itis only the attitude, of a nerveless Administration and a lazy officialdom.
I could also quote from a vigorous article which appeared in the Age on the 26th June, 1922, hut I think I have quoted sufficient to show the great importance of proceeding with the unification of. our gauges without further delay. My reply to the argument that we cannot afford to go on with the work at present is that we cannot afford not to go on with it. If Australia had this and other railways built, such as one crossing the Barklay Tableland and connecting Camooweal with Bourke, the northsouth line, and the Hay to Port Augusta or Broken Hill to Port Augusta lines, it would be in an infinitely better position to carry the burden of debt it would then have than it is at the present time to meet its liabilities, because the increased development would lead to national prosperity. The time has come, not for postponement of the work of unification of the railway gauges, but for action. If the bill is regarded from the right point of view, it will be passed without delay.
. –With all respect to honorable members, I suggest that many of the speeches on this measure have been beside the mark. Probably three-fourths of the arguments used have been in favour of unification, but that is not the matter at issue. I suppose that every honorable member is in favour of the unification of our railway gauges, and I am even prepared to say that the construction of this particular line is the first part of a general unification plan which might justly be carried out; but when I come to look at the bill, I feel compelled to ask myself whether the building of the proposed line will contribute in any degree to the attainmentof the general scheme.
We should examine the measure and the agreement attached to it, to see whether they will carry out its avowed purpose. Having considered all the facts and circumstances, I am driven to the conclusion that the bill will have the opposite effect. Instead of promoting the continental scheme, it will delay it, and increase the difficulties in future negotiations. “ We have been told a good many times that the subject should be considered from a broad national stand-point, but I am beginning to suspect those who use that phrase, for it is often employed with particular emphasis by honorable members who wish to applaud some purely local project. The able and thoughtful speech of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) is one which must have given every honorable member cause to think.
– Cause’; but not capacity in every case.
– I should be sorry to suggest that any honorable member lacks capacity to appreciate the remarks of the honorable member for Kooyong, and is unable to approve of his irresistible logic. The proposal under consideration, instead of helping on a broad national enterprise, is rather calculated to delay it. The original agreement of 1920 was ‘entered into between the Commonwealth and the states, and it has been wrongly referred to as the real basis of the scheme. That agreement, however, furnished an example of those extraordinary, and I may say arbitrary, methods of personal administration which were in vogue at that time in Australia, and the people clearly indicated at the last election that governments should revert to constitutional methods of administration. The agreement was supposed to bind the states as a whole, but it apparently contained no provision that the terms of the agreement should be submitted to and approved by the Parliaments of the Commonwealth or the states. The agreement was entered into by half a dozen men, who professed to represent the whole of Australia, and it was simply one to give effect to the recommendations of the royal commission. The only mistake, if I may say so, that the honorable member for Kooyong made was to refer to the preamble of the bill as implying that certain states had withdrawn from an agreement after having given their word. The honorable member also said that the first agreement had nothing whatever to do with the construction of new lines; but I remind honorable members that, after the scheme had been drawn- up, conferences were held in October and November, 1921, and in January, 1922, to which the scheme, as drawn up by the royal commission, was submitted. It contained proposals not only for the unification of the railway gauges, but also for the construction of new lines to complete the continental system. The scheme of the commission was to a great extent adopted at those conferences. The proposal, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) informed me in answer to a question today, was that the Commonwealth should in the first instance find the money for the work, and that the Commonwealth’s quota should be one-fifth of the cost, the remaining four-fifths to be borne by the five mainland states in the proportion that the population of each state bore to the population of the whole of the five states. A draft agreement was printed and circulated to each of the State Governments. Finally, each, of the states agreed to the basis of payment decided upon at the conference referred to. The states of Queensland, New South Wales, and Western Australia were in agreement generally as to the necessity for the works proposed by the royal commission, estimated to cost £21,600,000, to be put in hand ; but Victoria and. South Australia, whilst accepting the standard gauge of 4 ft. 8J in., and agreeing that the adoption of a uniform gauge was essential to the development and safety of the Commonwealth, would not assent to the work being proceeded with for the present. That answer by the Prime Minister does not indicate that any of the states definitely withdrew from th«» scheme, .but it shows that some of them thought that the time was not opportune for its inauguration. Acceptance by the states was subject to the approval of the respective Parliaments. It is from this stand-point that the attitude of the states must be considered. It was admitted by the Prime Minister, in his speech in introducing the bill, that no final agreement had been arrived at, and yet it is now proposed to bind the states to a scheme to which they have not given their formal assent, even through their mouthpieces, their Premiers, to whose Parliaments, as far as I am aware, the proposal has not even been submitted. The Commonwealth Government proposes to pay on behalf of three states the sum of £1,263.000, made up as follows:Victoria, £819,000; South Australia, £267,000; and Western Australia, £177,000; which, with the Commonwealth’s quota of £700,000, makes a total of £1,963,000. New South Wales and Queensland together are to pay £1,537,000. To use the words of the Prime Minister, the payments on behalf of the three states of Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia are to be made on the basis that, if at any future date they agree to participate in the general scheme,, they will then meet this obligation. Have those states, I ask, undertaken to meet such an obligation, or are they to have it thrust upon them by force majeure ? If, at any future time those states ask for the unification scheme to be carried out, they will find ready prepared for them certain conditions with which they will be expected to comply, and they will be expected to pay certain moneys with regard to an allocation and determination of which they have had no voice. In addition, there is an annual charge for interest to be levied against the states by the Commonwealth, which, ab 6 per cent., will amount to £75,780. According to the agreement the Commonwealth is to pay that interest, but until when ? Are we to suppose that when the states all participate in the scheme they will be faced with a request to pay a bill for this accumulated interest ? If from now on to the completion of the unification scheme an interval of 20 or 30 years elapsed honorable members can imagine the bill foi- accumulated interest which these states would be asked to meet. It is a very serious position into which the Government is trying to force them without their consent. I remind honorable members further that, under the Sinking Fund Act, a sinking fund has to be provided by the Commonwealth to meet the money borrowed for this purpose. So that, in addition to the capital cost of £1,963,000 which the Commonwealth is to incur, and the annual interest, the charge of £75,000 to be met by the three states I have referred to. there is also the sinking fund which must be provided out of the Commonwealth purse, and which must be borne in proportion by the various states. When we apeak of taking money out of the Commonwealth purse it must be remembered that it is not a separate purse, and that the money comes out of the pockets of the people in the different states. It is only playing with words to say that the citizens’ of the different states are not finding the money. It will be seen that a heavy charge will rest upon them for the completion of one piece of the work of the unification of gauges. It has been suggested that if this proposal is agreed to there will be no inducement for New South Wales and Queensland to bear their share in the cost of completing the unification scheme when it is brought forward. In reply to the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning), I say (hat in advancing this argument I am sure that the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) took thesame view of the matter as I do myself. He had no intention whatever of specifically reflecting upon the citizens of New South Wales and Queensland. I do not suppose that they differ in character in any way from the citizens of the other states, and it will scarcely be denied that in their own interests they would act in the way which has been suggested if an opportunity were afforded them to do so.
– Not being bound to do otherwise.
– Just so; not being bound by any definite promise or undertaking. There is nothing in this bill to bind Queensland and New South Wales in any way whatever to fulfil their part of the general unification of gauge scheme when it is brought forward. What is the real position ? We find that New South Wales and Queensland will, under this bill, obtain the completion of a work to cost £3,500,000 for an expenditure on their part of £1,500,000. Let us see what would bc the position if the general unification of gauge scheme were carried to completion. On the same basis of payment, according to population, if the complete scheme were carried out this would be the result, according to the information supplied to me this afternoon by the Prime Minister: In Western Australia the cost of work carried out in the state would be £5,030,000; the quota paid by the state would be £1,078,000. In South Australia the cost of work in the state would be £4,674,000, whilst the quota paid by the state would be £1,632,000. In Vic toria the cost of the work in the state would be £8,324,000, and the quota paid by Victoria would be £4,939,000. In New South Wales the cost of work in the state would be £1,657,000, whilst its quota would be £7,094,000. In Queensland the cost of work in that state would be £1,848,000, whilst its quota would be £2,535,000. For the Commonwealth the cost of the work done would be £67,000, and the Commonwealth’s quota would be £4,320,000. In. the face of these figures it will, I think, be admitted that if the unification of gauge scheme is completed there will be a very strong temptation for Queensland and New South Wales to findreasons why the work should not be carried any further than is proposed by this bill. Those states are, under the bill, to have £3,500,000 worth of work done for them for an expenditure by them of £1,500,000, whereas under the general unification scheme they would have £3,400,000 worth of work done for them and would have to pay £9,000,000.
– The people of South Australia and Western Australia squeak like a lot of stuck pigs.
– Of course. Does the honorable member suggest that when the railway proposed under this bill is constructed, and a proposal is brought forward by the poorer states for the completion of the unification of gauge scheme, the people of New South Wales are not going to squeak ? Of course they are, and with very good reason.
– I say, as a representative of New South Wales, that they will not squeak.
– I have as much right to say that the people of New South Wales will squeak as the honorable member has to say that the people of Western Australia squeak.
– The people of Western Australia are always squeaking, but I say that the people of New South Wales do not squeak.
– The honorable member may not squeak, but he talks out of his turn. He should let the honorable member for Perth proceed .
– Changes of government, and economic crises, and all sorts of reasons, may be put forward as a justification by Queensland and New South Wales to escape responsibility when the proposal for the completion of the scheme is brought forward. In most of the speeches which have been made in support of the bill, it has been suggested that by passing it we shall be committing Australia to the completion of the general scheme for the unification of gauges. It is said that the proposal contained in the bill is part of the general scheme, and if it is carried it will commit Australia to the general scheme. The argument appears to me very much like a man who has bought a motor cap saying that he has practically got a motor car. There is nothing in this bill to indicate that if this particular line is built, anything further will be done in the matter of the unification of gauges. The Prime Minister said that this particular proposal is one of the recommendations of the royal commission. It would appear from the right honorable gentleman’s statement that there was ‘ a series of recommendations by the commission. The right honorable gentleman suggested, although he did not say so in definite terms, that the Kyogle, South Australian, and Western Australian sections of the scheme were recommended by the commission in that order. I particularly asked him whether the phrase he used meant that. It is a most unfortunate way of putting the matter, and is not in accord with the report of the royal commission. This railway is not the subject of a separate recommendation by the commission. It is just part of one big scheme. It was not contemplated by the commission that it should be considered in any way at all apart from the rest of its scheme. The members of the royal commission were indeed very wise from a political point of view, and wiser perhaps than are some members of this House. They probably foresaw many of the difficulties which would arise in the way I have suggested, and they said distinctly that the work of the unification of the gauges could be commenced simultaneously in all of the states. They said that this was the first part of the work to be carried out in Queensland, and that other works were the first to be carried out in other states. If honorable members will refer, not only to the report of the commission, but. also to the map attached to it, they will find that the order in which the work is to be carried out is set down. It is divided into first, second, and third stages, and so on. They will also find that portions of the line in Western Australia and South Australia, and this particular line, are linked together to be simultaneously built. It is therefore incorrect to say that it was the recommendation of the royal commission that this particular line is the one which should be first constructed. Personally, I think it would be most improper that this House, without any guarantee whatever that the whole- scheme of unification is to be carried out, should consent to the work proposed in the bill. There has been some talk about the unification of gauges being held up because of conditions attached to- it, to which some of the states object. In the answers which I received to-day from the Prime Minister, South Australia has come in for special criticism on this account. South Australia did not, apparently, object to the scheme as laid down by the royal commission. There was nothing in the answers to my question to indicate that. The objection was only that the present is not considered an opportune time for the carrying out of the work, and South Australia desired delay on that account. There are very good reasons for considering that the time is not opportune for going on with this scheme. Do honorable members forget the tremendous stress under which we have been during the last ten years, and the repeated financial difficulties with which we. have been faced ? Eager as they may be to see the scheme of unification of gauges completed, do they consider that the present is a time to add an additional liability of nearly £22,000,000 to our already overwhelming debt?
– The cost will amount to a lot more than that.
– No doubt it will, but I am taking the estimate that has already been given. The honorable member for Kooyong pointed out that we have no recent estimates of cost. We do not know what; the proposed line will cost. There are no surveys, no details, and no reports upon which to base a reliable opinion. We are asked to give a blank cheque to three officials to do practically what they like with it. That is a monstrous proposal to submit to any Parliament. We must deal with the estimates of cost that have been submitted, and I again ask honorable members whether they consider it a reasonable thing to propose at this time to add another £22,000,000 to our already overwhelming debt? Within the next twelve or fifteen months we shall be- faced with the task of having to convert something like £72,000,000 of loan money, at probably increased interest rates. Are we to still further increase the difficulties with which the Commonwealth will be faced in financing its ordinary war liabilities f Did not the Commonwealth and State Governments admit the difficulty of the present position when they found it necessary to come to an agreement for the limitation of borrowing? Under agreement with the states, the Commonwealth has issued a loan of about £10,000,000, so that the money market may be favorable when the large Commonwealth conversions have to be made. On top of that, the Government now proposes to expend £3,500,000 on the construction of a line from Grafton to South Brisbane. Honorable members know perfectly well that this is a conservative estimate. When the railway is completed there is every likelihood of the expenditure being £5,1)00,000. Complaints have been made by various states that because of limiting their borrowing at the request of the Commonwealth, some of their big developmental schemes have, had to be considerably curtailed. If the proposed expenditure of £3,500,000 were used to construct large developmental schemes, increased wealth and population might result. One reason for constructing this railway was that it would run through very picturesque country ! We are not justified in spending this amount at a time when the money market is admittedly stringent.
– No more than we were justified in building the east-west railway during war time.
– It is common knowledge that because of the slack methods adopted in building that line, it cost probably twice as much as it should have cose. Surely that should be an object lesson to us. I am anxious to see the unification scheme completed, but it is hopeless to expect it in the immediate future. We shall defeat the object of the scheme by attempting to carry it out piecemeal. Since the original agreement was made, governments and conditions have changed. It is time for fresh light and thought to be introduced into this scheme. It should be referred back to the state governments. It is not right for this Parliament to practically bind the states for all time to certain payments without even consulting them and ascertaining whether they are prepared tto accept the obligation. I am not considering this matter from a parochial or narrow point of view. If the States were bound to a definite scheme, I should be quite prepared to say that the line from Grafton to Brisbane should be the first, and probably the Kalgoorlie to Fremantle section the last to be built. I have not lost all sense of proportion. Let the line be built where it would do the most good and serve the greatest number of people. But first the states must bind themselves to complete the whole scheme. It would be foolish to construct a small section of line in New South Wales and Queensland, and to give facilities to those two states without those states accepting this obligation. The bill should not be rushed through this House without honorable members having full information at their disposal. I am not against the unification scheme, but before this section of it is constructed, further inquiries should be made. I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Kooyong. I hope all honorable members will support his proposal, which at least is wise and cautious, and is certainly not narrow and small as represented by some honorable members. We should consider the whole scheme, which we all hope will at some time be fulfilled, rather than confine our views to state interests.
.- I have listened with interest to the debate on this bill. It is extraordinary that those honorable members who support the bill have asked other honorable members to take a broad national view, even though they themselves are speaking solely in the interests of their own states or electorates. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green), when speaking the other night, referred to the benefit that this railway would confer upon his electorate, and he then entreated honorable members to view it as a national undertaking. Other honorable members have spoken in the same strain. Generally speaking, they have stated that this is part of a scheme to unify the railway gauges of Australia. This railway, if constructed, would serve the interests only of New South Wales and Queensland. Its construction is not now essential, and if proceeded with, the expense should be borne by those two. states. Some years ago an agreement was made between Queensland and New South Wales for the construction of a railway along the coast to the border. Queensland constructed a line to Coolangatta, and New South Wales constructed one to Murwillumbah, on the Tweed River. There still remains a gap of 20 miles to be served by railway, which the New South Wales Government has failed to construct. It will be interesting to see how the Victorian representatives vote on this proposal, in view of the attitude taken up by the Victorian press. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and other members of the Cabinet represent Victorian constituencies. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) quoted the Age, the Argus, and other Victorian newspapers as supporting the unification of gauges, and also this bill. I refer him to the following article, which appeared in the Age of the 22nd September : -
Under the pretence of commencing the unification of gauges on existing railways, the Bruce-Page Government is about to build an entirely new railway that, in the case of some of the States, may lead to disastrous consequences. An examination of the history of the Kyogle-Brisbane Railway Bill and the ‘Grafton regrading proposal leads inevitably to that conclusion. Victoria has to be on its guard against an unusual kind of political job - a job, too, proposed by men who are supposed to be representatives of this State, and to give special attention to its interests.
If the bill dealt with the general unification of railway gauges in Australia I should vote for it. Before this railway is built the compact between the Commonwealth Government and the South Australian Government respecting the construction of the north-south line should be honoured. I shall vote against the construction of any Commonwealth railways until the north-south railway has been built.
– Does the honorable member think that South Australia should bear the whole cost of constructing that line?
– No. The Commonwealth Government, when taking over the Northern Territory from South Australia, agreed to construct the north-south line. It is the duty of every South Australian representative to adopt the attitude that I am taking, and to use his best efforts to bring about the construction of that line. The recommendations made by the royal commission on the unification of gauges were adopted by this
Parliament in September, 1921, three years ago. The Northern Territory Acceptance Act was passed in 1910, fourteen years ago. Honorable members representing New South Wales and Queensland have repeatedly asked members representing the other states not to take a parochial view of this proposition. I remind them that when the proposal to expend moneys on certain works at Canberra was before this House, I voted for it, because the agreement with the State of New South Wales warranted that expenditure. Honorable members heard the information with which the Minister for Works and Railways furnished me to-day regarding the capital expenditure at Canberra. Notwithstanding those heavy dis bursements by the Commonwealth, the representatives nf New South Wales ask that the Federal Treasury shall be further burdened by the construction of a costly railway to benefit that state. The Melbourne Tier did, in a leading ‘ article on 22nd September, said -
But it is charged against the Bruce-Page Government that’ the national aspect of this railway proposal is only a pretence, that there is no real intention, because the Government knows quite well that it cannot find the means, to proceed to any useful extent with the unification of gauges, that the whole business is nothing but a dodge to catch votes in Now South Wales and Queensland by making the people of other States contribute to the cost of their local railway undertakings.
Circumstances certainly give colour to the charges. The unification of gauges is an important undertaking that must be squarely tackled as soon as feasible. But no one seriously suggests that in our present financial position, and in the condition of the local and foreign money markets, it is an immediate practical possibility. The Commonwealth Government itself shows how little it thinks of the likelihood by continuing to construct new railways with varying gauges. There is no evidence, in any comprehensive plan, that the profession of making the Kyogle railway the first instalment of a great national undertaking to solve the break of gauge difficulty is sincere. In the absence of such evidence it is not unreasonable that the taxpayers in the States which will get no benefit from the new line should ask why they should be made to contribute to providing local railway facilities in Queensland and New South Wales.
In view of that statement, it is well to remind honorable members that this railway is to be constructed through electorates represented by the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) and supporters of the Ministry. The Prime Minister, speaking at the Victorian Royal Show luncheon last week, made the following statement - vide the Sun, of 22nd September : -
This attitude is reflected in our various Parliaments. Different parties strive to obtain advantage over each other by an appeal to tlie sectional interests of the community.
New parties spring up and do not hesitate to admit frankly that their object is to obtain a position where they hold the balance of power, and to gain their ends by a species o£ political blackmail.
– I do not think that .those remarks have anything to do with either the bill or the amendment.
– I was about to say that I have been wondering whether the railway is portion of the “ blackmail “ to which the Prime Minister referred. I have copies of newspapers published a long way from Victoria which see a relationship between this bill and the statement made by the right honorable gentleman. The Treasurer and other members of the Country party who support the Nationalists in the composite government are demanding a quid -pro quo.
– Did not the present Government offer that the South Australian section of railway to be converted would be undertaken first ?
– I believe that promise was made ; at any rate, the subject is worthy of investigation. The supporters of this project have asked us to take a broad national view of the bill, but 1 think the honorable member for Perth (Mr.. Mann) was right in saying that the main question to be considered is whether the time is opportune for the carrying out of this scheme. As one of the representatives of a state that has a grievance against the Commonwealth, I am opposed to any expenditure upon railway construction that will delay the commencement of the north-south line. Any money that the Commonwealth is able to expend on railway construction should be applied to that overdue line, and the general scheme for the unification of gauges throughout the Commonwealth should be referred to a conference of Premiers. This bill will render the State of South Australia liable for a proportion of a large capital expenditure. The Barwell Government adopted a scheme for the conversion of the western railway system from the 3-ft. 6-in. to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, in respect of which the present State Government is committed to an expenditure of £3,000,000. With that heavy financial burden to bear, the state cannot afford to incur a further liability for the construction of the Grafton to South Brisbane railway. Although Sir Henry Barwell was opposed to the general scheme for the unification of railway gauges, it does not follow that the same view is taken by the present South Aus; tralian Ministry; but, having- been committed by its predecessor to a work involving an expenditure of £3,000,000, it should not be asked to contribute towards the cost of railway development in New South Wales and Queensland. This bill should be rejected, and the money thus saved devoted to honouring the agreement made by the Commonwealth with tho State of South Australia for the construction of the north-south railway. I agree with the proposal made by the former Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) for the construction of a double line of standard gauge from Port Augusta to Adelaide, and a spur Une to Hay ; but these- railway projects must be deferred until a general agreement has been reached by the representatives of all the states meeting in conference. At the risk of being condemned as parochial by the representatives of New South Wales and Queensland, I say that until the Commonwealth honours its compact with South Australia regarding the northsouth line, I shall not support any proposal for the construction of other railways by the Commonwealth. I shall vote for the amendment as the best available alternative to the bill, in the hope that we may be able to avoid committing the Commonwealth to a haphazard scheme for the building of a small length of local railway on the pretence that it is the first section of a general scheme for the unification of railway gauges.
– Usually I find myself so much in accord with the views which the honorable member for Perth presents with such, lucidity, that I feel relieved of the responsibility of speaking on subjects to which he has addressed himself, but on this occasion I am very reluctantly compelled to take a stand diametrically opposed to his. Having listened to the speeches made for and against this bill, I have heard no valid argument in opposition to the construction of the proposed line. Indeed this railway would so obviously advantage the general community that it should require no special advocacy. Not only will it be a convenience and benefit to the people of New South Wales and Queensland, but it will be an advantage to the Australian people as a whole, particularly in bringing into closer relationship the communities living on the eastern and western seaboards. It will enable a more expeditious movement, of both goods and passengers than is possible at the present time.
– And the people of Victoria will be paying for it.
– They will pay a portion of the cost, but the people of New South Wales are bearing without protest a large proportion of the expenditure upon other railway schemes in the Commonwealth from which they derive no apparent benefit. If the argument is sound that the oost of the Grafton to South Brisbane railway should be borne by the people of New South Wales and Queensland, the people of New South Wales might urge with equal justice that the cost of the Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie railway should be paid by the people of South Australia and Western Australia.
– New South Wales gets more benefit out of it than does any other
– The benefit received by New South Wales from the transcontinental railway is not comparable with that reaped by other states that are in closer geographical association with Western Australia. The same argument could be urged with greater force regarding some of the other projected railways, which cannot be described as specially beneficial to New SouthWales. What benefit, for instance, will New South Wales get from the north-south railway ? But I do not think the people of New South Wales will object to bearing their share of the cost of that railway if they realize that its construction is in the interests of Australia as a whole. South Australia and Western Australia will derive much more benefit from it than will Queensland, New South Wales, or Victoria. The bearing of this railway upon the defence of Australia must not be overlooked. Although the general unification of the railway gauges may not be in contemplation, I welcome any step in that direction, and this railway is certainly a beginning. Sooner or later - and the sooner the better - we must seriously consider, from the stand-point of defence, the unification of the gauges of our main trunk lines. The difficulty of transporting troops and their equipment from one part of Australia to another must cause us to face this problem at no very distant date. With some of the arguments that have been advanced against saddling the Commonwealth with the liability for the cost of this railway, we have been familiar for many years. The argument that “the time is not opportune” has been advanced in the past and is still being advanced to-day in opposition to the construction of the Federal Capital. No matter how opulent we may be, the time will never, in the opinion of some honorable members, especially those whose views are influenced by the leading articles in powerful metropolitan newspapers, opposed to New South Wales, be opportune for building this railway, or for any expenditure outside the State of Victoria. I am pleased to know, however, that there is a considerable body of public opinion in Victoria, including a number of honorable members who are not influenced by the Views of those powerful newspapers, but act on their own judgment of the merits of the case. I suggest that the . problem of paying for this railway is not so serious as some honorable members would have us believe. We are enjoying from the Customs Department a revenue far in excess of the estimate, and I have reason to believe that in this year the first quarter’s revenue will show a substantial surplus over the estimate for that period. That state of things is likely to continue to the end of the year. There is no reason why we should not utilize some of that surplus for a work of this kind. The proposal has my cordial and hearty support. I am a great believer in. short speeches.
– Since when?
– Honorable members on both sides of the house may fairly be excused for receiving an assurance of that kind from me with incredulity, having regard to my record when I was a member of the Opposition.
– The honorable member was the greatest nuisance in the House.
– The honorable member is probably quite right, and I often realized it at the time. That description I have of late not infrequently heard applied to the honorable member who interjected, but he has been long enough in opposition to know that very often a member of the Opposition has to perform at the behest - or perhaps I should say at the request - of the leaders of his party, oratorical duties that may entail a certain amount of physical strain not only upon him, but also upon the occupant of the chair. Since that time I have been an occupant of the chair that you, Mr. Speaker, at present adorn, and I have gone through the painful experience of listening hour after hour to the irrelevant talk of honorable members on both sides of the House. That experience has created in me a feeling of compassion for the occupant of the chair. Having regard to the physical and mental strain that you have to endure, I shall set the example of being brief.
– I oppose the very first part of the bill. I can not agree to its short title, and when it gets into committee I shall move to alter the short title to “ A species of political blackmail.” Those words correctly describe the bill at the present- moment. The House is indebted to the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr.’ Latham) for his detailed analysis of it. He showed us its faults and explained what important things it did not contain. Every honorable member who has supported the construction of the railway has shown that he does not care a “ twopenny dump “ what it means so long as it is constructed on the “ broad national line “ that will run past his electorate. It is the “ back door “ railway of the Treasurer. The Government might as well lay its cards on the table and be honest with the electors.
– It is the “ front door “ railway of Australia.
– If the Treasurer wanted a “ front door “ railway he would be supporting the north-south railway instead of the Kyogle boggle railway. The north-south railway is supposed to be of strategic importance, but that has been lost sight of in the interests of this railway and a bridge across the Clarence River.
– It will be a fine bridge.
– It is a fine bridge to the imagination, but some honorable members are relying on the promises of a Government that will receive its death sentence when the electors get an opportunity. Even the Prime Minister sees the writing on the wall. He has the cold shivers, and told the farmers so at the recent Royal Show. He said, “ I am not the Government. I certainly am the Prime Minister, in parts, but there are parties that spring into existence, force themselves upon me, and impose a species of political blackmail.” Now we have evidence of the “ species of political blackmail “ in this railway bill. It is strange how the fervour for unification has sprung up at this late hour. Every one appears to be glad that the Prime Minister has coined the phrase “ the unification of the gauges of Australia.” It. is a very admirable idea, and is worthy of the attention of this Parliament; but unifying the railway gauges of Australia is less important than placating the blackmailers that govern the Government. That is why the bill is before us in its half masticated form. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) said that an engineer only needed to travel over the route on a bicycle to- discover how much it would cost to build the railway. Who the devil cares–
– I meant to say, who on earth cares so long as the Commonwealth finances the project ?
– The honorable member forgets that the last Government was as keen as the present Government on the construction of this railway.
– I took some interest in the debates in this House when the- previous Ministry was in office, but I have no knowledge that the construction of this railway was a live topic.
– The Premier of South Australia, agreed to it.
– To the present proposal ?
– Then I should like to know what has turned him against it. I am tired of the negotiations between the Prime Minister and the Premiers. I have been “ sold a pup “ twice, and I have not yet been able to define his breed. It is time that we knew what the Government intends to do. The railway may possibly be all that is claimed. for it, but it should not be put forward in the guise of a proposal to unify the gauges of Australia. It is merely a sop to the powers that control the Government. Why I feel so keenly about it is that another sop was thrown for another part of the Government, but it- missed its objective. The result is that we are not getting the north-south railway.
– Is the Queensland Labour Government one of the blackmailers to which the honorable member referred ?
– The Labour Government of Queensland is shrewd enough to take advantage of everything that is offered for the benefit of its state. If it can get the Queensland representatives in this Parliament to cause the Government to build at the expense of the general taxpayer, a line which will be of advantage to Queensland, it cannot be blamed for so doing: but honorable members generally are here to see that the fair thing is done. In my opinion the Government is not playing fairly with some of the states of the Commonwealth and certainly not with South Australia. The Commonwealth took over the Northern Territory from South Australia when it was a losing proposition, for it believed that it could govern it better than South Australia was doing, and the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) this afternoon blamed South Australia because the Commonwealth has made a “ mess “ of the job. We ought to be doing something to make the Northern Territory less of a losing proposition than it is. We should be considering the building of the north-south railway rather than the Grafton to South Brisbane line. South Australia has waited patiently for the Commonwealth Government to honour its compact, and I have endeavoured time after time to get the Prime Minister to make a statement regarding the Government’s intention in that matter. I must admit that he has always been gentlemanly and pleasant in his negotiations, but we want something definite.
– The position of the Commonwealth Government in respect to the north-south line is quite definite.
– It may be definite, but what is it. That is what I cannot discover, unless it is that the Government intends to do nothing.
– I assure the honorable member that that is not the case.
– The Prime Minister always tells the deputations that wait on him with regard to the matter that “ something will be done.”
– Will he verify that by a statutory declaration?
– I wish him to verify it by introducing a bill for the construction of a line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. That would, at least, show that he is in earnest in his expressed desire to see the north-south line built. Any offer that the Government may have made to go on with the building of the north-south line was, I believe, linked up with a condition respecting the building of the Hay to Port Augusta line.
– The honorable member knows that the north-south line is not included in this bill.
– I know that full well, sir. I am afraid that it is a long way from this bill, and also a long way from being made.
– If the honorable member was given a promise that the north-south line . would be built, would he vote for this measure?
– I am not to be caught like that. If our railway gauges are to be unified the work should be done in a proper manner. Comment has been made this afternoon and evening respecting certain state governments not honouring agreements. ‘ May I ask why the Commonwealth Government has not requested the WesternAustralian Government to honour its agreement to reconstruct the Kalgoorlie to Fremantle railway on a 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge? That work should be done before the Kyogle to Brisbane line is commenced. The Commonwealth Government built the east-west line, which, although beneficial to Western Australia and South Australia, was also beneficial to Sydney, conditionally on the Western Australian Government reconstructing the Kalgoorlie to F rem an tle line on the uniform gauge. That has not been done. If the people of New South Wales could get the Hay to Port Augusta line built they would let the people of Victoria and South Australia “ go hang.” A good deal has been said about the necessity for unifying our gauges for defence purposes, but no one has suggested how the Victorian soldiers are to be carried across the continent if the unification project ends with the building of the Hay to Port Augusta line. It is apparently of no concern to some honorable members that Albury, Terowie, and Port Augusta shouldcontinue to be break of gauge stations.
– The honorable member must know that we made an offer to Sir Henry Barwell to proceed with the building of a line from Port Augusta to Adelaide.
– I am not au fait with all the terms of that proposed agreement, but it is a strange thing to me that,in spite of what was then suggested, or perhaps because of it, the South Australian Government is proceeding with the construction of a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge line from Bowmans toRed Hill, which will ultimately go on to Port Augusta.
– No, it will go to Port Pirie.
– Eventually it will have to go on to Port Augusta. Something serious must be wrong to lead the South Australian Government to continue building 5-ft. 3-in. gauge lines when it is commonly agreed to be very necessary that we should unify our gauges. When the Parliaments of Australia are ready to consider the interests of the general taxpayers, and throw off the shackles of state rights, mistakes of that kind will not be made, and we shall not be engaged in acrimonious debates on proposals of this kind. The political aspect of this proposed line is more important to some honorable members than any other aspect of it. I have no doubt that if this bill is passed the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) will go back to his constituents and tell them of the great fight he made for it. If the bill is agreed to, and I suppose the Government has the numbers to carry the day, the honorable member should be able to retain his hold on his electorate for the next ten or twelve years.
– I hope so.
– It seems that I have put my finger on the right spot. The honorable member’s broad national outlook is limited to Murwillumbah and the country surrounding it. He and some other honorable members have discussed this measure from the unification of gauges point of view with their tongue in their cheek. In my opinion, political expediency is the reason for the introduction of the measure. If the Government had an earnest desire to unify our railway gauges it would honour the compact which was made with South Australia years ago, and build a line from Oodnadatta to Darwin. The Prime Minister knows that it was suggested not so long ago by the present AttorneyGeneral of South Australia, that legal opinion should be taken about the position of the various governments respecting the agreement to build the north-south line. In fact it was even suggested that the South Australian Government should go to law on the matter. I certainly think that a writ of habeas corpus should be issued calling upon the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) to produce the body of the north-south railway. In his speech on this measure, the Prime Minister said that he was confident that if the Government took this first step towards unification the people would see that it was sincere, but before I shall believe that it is sincere I shall need some assurance that it intends, in the near future, to put in hand the building of the Oodnadatta to Darwin line. The previous Government when extending the line from Katherine to Bitter Springs, laid sleepers that would take a 4-ft. 81/2in. line, but that is all that has been done. My opposition to this measure is not to be taken as opposition to the building of developmental railway lines in Australia, for I believe that there is very little country in the Commonwealth which does not merit railway facilities. I object to the bill for the reason that I consider that the various states of the Commonwealth are not being fairly treated. South Australia is attempting to make herrailways more efficient by broadening her gauges ; but if the Prime Minister wouldtake hold of the problem of the unification of our railway gauges as he could do, he could prevent money from being wasted in building additional 5-ft. 3-in. gauge railways, and see that any extensions or reconstructions of existing lines in any of the states were on the uniform gauge of 4 ft. in. I shall support the amendment of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). A half-baked proposal like this should be submitted to the Public Works
Committee for report, and honorable members should not be satisfied until a comprehensive unification scheme is agreed upon by all the states, and the compact entered into with South. Australia honoured.
– In debating this measure, I wish to make it quite clear that I do not regard the suggested Hay to Port Augusta railway as being involved in it. I hold myself free to consider that proposal on its merits later on, just as I propose now to deal with this proposal on its merits. Two questions are suggested for consideration by the bill. The first is: Is this line theoretically advisable ? The second is : Assuming that it is, is it advisable from the practical point of view? I am inclined to think that, theoretically, the line is advisable. There is no need for me to engage in a discussion of unification for that subject has been dealt with frequently in this chamber. Any one who has travelled from Fremantle to the north of Brisbane as I have, and knows from experience the numerous breaks in the railway gauges in that journey, must agree that the unification of our gauges is advisable. I acquit the Government of any intention to place a slight on any state which has not become a party to this agreement. That the Government has undertaken to pay the proportions which would be due by the non-participating states on the condition that they shall later on re-pay them if they come in, seems to me to be evidence of its earnest desire to proceed with the work. It requires no stretch of the imagination to realize the difficulty of getting all the states of Australia to agree on a certain work. The point has been raised whether this line should be built while the building of the north-south line, agreed to seventeen years ago, is held in abeyance. I do not propose to debate that matter at length, but as the honorable member for Grey has referred to it, I may be excused for mentioning it. The Government seems to be acting .like a man who admits that he owes a debt to some one, but, seeing an opening for what he thinks a profitable investment, chooses to invest his money rather than to pay his debt. I hardly think that one would be justified in voting against the bill, if it is of national importance, simply because there has been delay over the north-south line, which I deplore as much as do my friends opposite. Taking the practical point of view, I ask, “ Is this work desirable-?” I listened with very great interest, as I am sure every other honorable member did, to the remarks of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), and with him I am inclined to the view that the’ proposal should be recommended by the Public Works Committee before it is carried out. If the points raised by the honorable member are answerable, they have certainly not been answered. No serious attempt has been macle to reply to him. I particularly stress the quotations which he mad© from the Public Works Committee Act. On reading that act one wonders bow a government could bring down a proposal for such an enormous expenditure as £3,500,000 without first submitting it to the body which has been specially appointed by Parliament to consider such matters.
– This is not the first occasion on which the Public Works Committee Act has been evaded.
– But that is no reason why that course should be again followed. If I were a member of the Public Works Committee, and such a bill as this were brought down without the work having been referred to that body, I should be inclined to regard the omission as somewhat in the nature of a slight. It appears to me that the proposal should be referred to that committee for the guidance of Parliament. More details than have been provided as to the cost of the undertaking should be supplied. Three years have elapsed since the royal commission reported on the matter of gauges, and I fail to see any need for the tremendous haste with which some honorable members desire to push the measure through the House.
– A start must be made at some time.
– Yes; but it is desirable that the work should be begun in a proper manner. I also think that Queensland and New South Wales should be more strongly bound than they are at the present, time to the remaining portion of the undertaking. One has only to remember what has happened in connexion with the agreement entered into by South Australia, in 1907, for the construction by the Commonwealth of the north-south railway, to realize the difficulty there may be in completing the scheme for the unification of the railway gauges, and, although the intention is reasonably clear, one is forced to the conclusion that a big scheme such as this should be formally endorsed by all the parties to it. Unless given good reasons why I should change my views, I shall support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). At present the arguments of the honorable member appear to me to be unanswerable.
.- This is a bill -
To approve and provide tor the carrying out of anagreement entered into between the Commonwealth of Australia and the states of New South Wales and Queensland respecting the construction of a railway of standard gauge between Kyogle and South Brisbane, and the re-grading and re-laying of the railway between Grafton and Kyogle and to authorize the raising and expending of moneys for the purposes of the agreement.
The first thing that strikes me is that the purpose of the bill as set out in the preamble makes no reference to the state of Victoria, of which I, by the grace of God, am a citizen and a taxpayer. If one only read the preamble, which is supposed to explain the bill to some extent, he would be justified in viewing the proposal with the detached and judicial air of a totally disinterested person, but from clause 9 of its portentous schedule the following particulars are to be gleaned : -
Of the money provided by the Commonwealth as aforesaid -
That statement not only affects my view of the bill as a whole, but, if the expression is parliamentary, discovers “ the nigger in the wood-pile.” This bill is one calculated to bring a sense of elation to all members. For in stance, it must necessarily be a source of delight to those who see in it machinery for getting something for nothing. That is human nature the world over. It must bring a truer and greater measure of delight to those who, in a spirit of pure altruism, delight in giving something to their neighbour for which they have received nothing in return. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey) rightly pointed ‘out, in reply to an interjection by the honorable member for Lang (Sir Elliot Johnson), that in the case of the north-south railway there was a quid pro quo - a definite contractual arrangement between the Commonwealth and the State of South Australia under which the construction of the line was promised to that state. There is a condition known to naturalists as protective coloration. Certain insects, reptiles, birds, and animals acquire the colour of their surroundings, and especially of surrounding foliage, as a protection against their natural enemies. This phenomenon also occurs in the political world. Members of Parliament are known to be affected by the views of their constituents and their local geographical conditions; sometimes unconsciously and sometimes consciously. Possibly it is to be found in other walks of life as well, but the exacting duties which we have to perform under the searching light of public criticism, and, more often than not, under the incubus of public reproach, makes this protective agency more necessary in politics than perhaps in any other walk of life. It is seen in the expression of the views of honorable members in regard to this bill. There is another principle which is not so well known to naturalists, but which is quite well known to politicians, and a very curious convulsion is created in the political world when the principle of protective coloration comes into violent contact with the equally important and almost irresistible principle of broad national spirit. When we have these two working in conflict, we have brought about a political chaos which results in the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Duncan-Hughes) and myself voting on the same side, and other similarly unlikely incidents occur. For instance, a victim of this convulsion is seen in the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron). This amiable honorable member does not speak often, but when he does he is listened to with pleasure and attention. This afternoon he came out - of course, so he told us, on broad national grounds - as a whole-hearted supporter of this bill. We might naturally think that he was animated by a broad national spirit, and there was nothing of protective coloration in his attitude until we found that the proposed railway is going to run right into his electorate. Then we began to consider which of the two great principles to which I have referred have dominated the honorable member.
– The line will U0 i-i m into my electorate.
– It will run to within walking distance of it.
– It will run 30 near to it that the point is hardly worth discussion. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) says quite truly that it will run to within comfortable walking distance of the honorable member’s electorate, and when we are dealing with the unification of the railway gauges of Australia, I suggest that a mistake to the extent measured by a comfortable walking distance, in the distance to be covered by this railway, cannot be cavilled at as a serious inaccuracy on my part. Breadth of vision is the appeal which was made to us by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning). It is a curious coincidence that tho honorable member who appeals to us for breadth of vision should be a taxpayer of New South Wales, who is to be given something for nothing under this bill. However, it would be improper for me to attribute to the honorable member any other motive for support of the bill than consideration of the matter in a broad national spirit. The honorable member for Lang (Sir Elliot Johnson), the representative of another New South Wales constituency, says that this railway will be so obviously to the advantage of all citizens of Australia that he can hardly understand how any citizen of Australia can do other than give it his whole-hearted support. I interjected - which was disorderly - and now repeat, more in order, that the same argument might be used to a greater or less degree in regard to almost all the railways in the great mother State of New South Wales. It would be very unfortunate for Victoria if New South Wales had no railways. It would also be unfortunate for Victoria if Queensland had no railways ; or if there were no transcontinental railway and no railways in Western Australia. Still, honorable members must not forget that we are not yet a unified Commonwealth. This socalled parochialism is not merely a sentimental matter. There is the practical fact to be remembered that we are taxpayers of different sovereign states, and from that point of view we are bound, whether under the principle of protective . coloration or the principle of a broad national spirit, to express the view which seems to represent fair play to the particular state of which we are taxpaying citizens. The honorable member for Brisbane has reminded me that the proposed new railway is a line from a place called Kyogle to South Brisbane. Until this matter came under notice for public discussion, I had never heard of Kyogle.
– The honorable member has missed something in not having been there.
– I am prepared to admit that. I find, on reference to the map, that whatever else may be known about it, Kyogle is a dead-end. Some honorable members may be able to tell me what its population is. Some may have been there for an hour or two and counted the people. Others may have referred to the local gazetteer or have ascertained from the Mayor of Kyogle what its population is. I say nothing in derogation of Kyogle.
– Kyogle is a fine little town.
– Do we not know well how many comparatively insignificant places have blossomed into fame. Some towns, like some people, have achieved greatness ; others have had greatness thrust upon them. Kyogle has had greatness thrust upon it. Who would have heard of Auburn if it had not been that our late friend Mr. Goldsmith, looking around for some likely subject for a pot-boiler, fixed upon it at a time when there was no Country party giving grants of public funds for indigent poets. If it had not been that Goldsmith, in those times and under those circumstances, wrote of -
Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain, we might never have heard pf Auburn. Now, although every one has heard of Auburn, it is still a matter of doubt as to where it really is. Kyogle will be famous and every one will know where it is. Who would have known of Waterloo if it were not for the fact that a “ scrap “ of considerable importance, was fought there in the year 1815, a “ scrap “ which made the place immortal, and to which Lord Byron referred afterwards as -
Bloody and most brutal Waterloo.
Kyogle is destined to be famous. It is already famous. But who can say what its future is to be? The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green), who holds a brief for Kyogle and the Kyogle district, on “ broad national grounds,” slightly coloured by protective colouration, says it is a fine little town. Let it be so. I believe it will be much finer, and the clay is not far distant when the “ Kyogle “ will become the most popular jazz of our time. Who will not dance the “Kyogle.” We shall cease to talk about ogling the girls; we shall speak of kyogling them. I venture to say that the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster), very soon in our history, when, in his genial and big-hearted way, he takes a friend upstairs, will say to him, “Do not take it neat, put a drop of kyogle in it.” This line is to be carried from Grafton as far as Brisbane. It is argued that this is part of a great scheme for the unification of the railway gauges of Australia. Like others, I am entirely in favour of the unification of our railway gauges. In fact, nobody with an ounce of commonsense, looking at this question from even a local view-point, can fail to appreciate the great inconvenience of varying gauges and the great national advantage of a uniform gauge. It is a curious thing that the honorable member for Macquarie should have gone out of his way this evening to quote, at great length, from, a Melbourne newspaper to show that that newspaper had committed itself to support of the unification of Australian railway gauges.-
– But not of this proposal.
– At any rate, most of us arc so committed. I have heard interjectors say that representatives of Victoria are influenced in this matter by newspaper propaganda. I do not think that that can seriously be urged against members of the Labour party. For my part, if I may make a candid confession on the subject, so far as it is relevant to this bill, when the newspapers of Melbourne praise me my first feeling is one of pleasure. A blush of pleasure suffuses my countenance on finding myself unexpectedly praised, because, Mr. Speaker, as you know, or, perhaps you do not know, youth and innocence always succumb to flattery. My second thought, and second thoughts are always best, is one of gloomy foreboding as to my political future. The result is a tour of my electorate and a series of explanatory addresses, all of which takes time. Therefore, in my more serious moments I do not like praise or applause from the newspapers. In the circumstances. I am sure I shall be held guiltless of having my views on this matter coloured by the views expressed by any section of the press. If I am found in agreement with the newspapers, I am fortified to the extent of the value of their arguments, and they are fortified, if I may venture to hope so much, by the force of mine. The argument here is a very simple one. and need not be laboured. It is that this measure is not and does not pretend to be a plan for the unification of the Australian railway gauges. The proof of that is to be found in the very preamble of the bill.
– I think it might fairly be accepted as an instalment of an ultimate plan.
– It might if this were a matter to be treated by instalments of that kind, but we sa.y it is not such a matter. The short title of the measure is to be “The Grafton to South Brisbane Railway Act. 1924,” and there is not a word in the bill, or in the agreement, which guarantees to the people of Australia either the initiation or completion of an Australian scheme for the unification of the Australian railway gauges. The unification of the Australian railway gauges is an Australian enterprise, and the first thing that should be done to enable this Parliament to visualize what is intended, how’ it is to be carried out, and what it is to cost, is to bring forward a general outline of an allAustralian scheme, and then to allow this
Parliament to discuss it on the basis of an all-Australian proposal. This is clearly a hole-and-corner bargain made between the Government and a sec- tion of its Country party supporters. It is perfectly obvious to even the most casual observer that it is another of those sops that have to be given by the National Government to the leader of the Country party in order to hold this dissolving pact together. It bears that fact upon its face. Nowhere in the bill or in the long, loosely-drawn schedule attached to it, is one word binding the states that are to benefit by this proposal, to any subsequent wellconsidered scheme of unification for Australia. This is a big enough subject for the Federal Parliament to face as a whole. It is too big a subject to be brought before this Parliament in the concluding days of the session in the form of a bill for a short and expensive spur railway, designed to benefit, immediately and substantially a small section of the community. No doubt in ite ultimate result it may to some extent benefit - other sections of the community as well, but only, indirectly, inasmuch as every section of railway is a benefit to those who use it. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) spoke of the fortunate state of Victoria, which he said was the spoilt child of the group. He called attention to her good fortune in possessing a fine network of railways. Of course, materially, her general development is far ahead of that of the other states, but that has been brought about at the expense of the Victorian taxpayer. I am quite prepared to accept the assurance of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay), and also of the honorable member for Brisbane, that Queensland has an excellent system of railways, but I would remind them that that state has, for years, been in the happy position of being controlled by a Labour Government. Although every credit is due to my Labour colleagues in Brisbane for what they have done, I do not feel disposed to saddle the taxpayers of this state with a burden that ought to be borne by the people of Queensland. For this reason I oppose the bill. The question now arises whether I should support the amendment moved by the “honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). That seems to
Mr. Brennan be the only alternative. I do not object to voting with a fellow-worker, even, for once, but, after all, his proposal to refer the matter to the Public Works Committee is only putting off the evil day. It decides nothing. The time is ripe- for honorable members to record a decided opinion upon the principle underlying the bill, the method of its introduction. the object it has in view, the influences at work in having it tabled in this chamber, and the obvious injustice that it will work upon the other states of the Commonwealth if it is passed. However, in the meantime, it will serve my purpose to vote for the amendment. It is curious that bills of this kind - and they are becoming very common with the present National Government - are introduced with a long and apologetic preamble. There is, as the Prime Minister knows perfectly well, a French phrase - qui s’ excuse, s’accuse - which alleges that people who excuse themselves accuse themselves. This phrase always occurs to my mind when a long preamble of explanation and excuse is made by the Government in introducing a short bill. I object also to the method of attaching to a bill an agreement which is really the substance of the bill. We are asked to accept the schedule as a whole, whereas it might well be debated clause by clause. That, perhaps, is a matter for arrangement in committee. I oppose the passing of the bill on broad national grounds, only slightly tinged, by the subordinate principles of protective coloration.
.- The Government should not ask the House to accept the responsibility for this loosely-drawn agreement, especially in the absence of full information regarding the ultimate liability of the work. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) made a very incisive, plain, condemnatory speech, and there has not been an attempt on the part of the Government toanswer it. When the bill was submitted to the House last week I examined the agreement carefully, and found, to my utter surprise, that there was no binding provision in it to make New South Wales and Queensland responsible for their pro rata contributions for the complete unification scheme. The Government should not ask the House to pass this bill until that position has been made abundantly clear. I shall not, under any circum- stances - having due regard to my responsibility to the people of this country - vote for this expenditure without adequate provision being made to safeguard the complete scheme of unification. We have nothing definite as to the cost of the proposed railway. We should at least have a certificate supplied by a Railways Commissioner, on behalf of the Government, giving the approximate cost of the line. This Parliament had a bitter experience when the construction of the eastwest railway was undertaken . Before that work was commenced the Commonwealth Government summoned to its aid and sought the advice of the chief engineers of no fewer than three states of the Commonwealth. Proper and reliable estimates were given. The Government subsequently undertook to construct the railway with heavier rails and to alter materially the whole character of the line, but estimates of the work were not available until the railway was completed. This was the biggest scandal in railway construction that Australia, had experienced. Before this proposed railway is constructed a reliable estimate of the cost should be obtained. It has been said that the estimate of £3,500,000 is only approximate, and that a portion of the proposed route has not yet been surveyed. Yet this Parliament is loosely asked to vote millions of pounds for this proposal. It is about time that the people of this country insisted on a proper and specialized administration of the Railway Department of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Government has charged the states with lack of appreciation of their responsibilities in regard to the unification of railway gauges. I remind tlie Prime Minister that the states have had a bitter experience in recent years. At the end of the war they were left with depleted -resources, and railways that had been starved. Up to the present moment they have not recovered the leeway, and the best experts in their employ - men infinitely more competent than the Commonwealth employs - declare that whilst the unification of gauges is advisable, under existing conditions it is better in the interests of everybody to attend to the pressing needs of the established systems, and undertake essential developments that will give immediate returns. I believe that every state in the Commonwealth, when building new railways, makes provision in connexion with bridges and culverts for a possible standardization of the gauges in the near future. The Commonwealth Government evidently is very desirous of spending money upon the construction of railways that should be built by the states interested. If there is one department that requires overhauling, it is the Commonwealth Railway Department, and if there is one Government that needs expert advice to guide it in railway matters, it is that of the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister has caught this railway construction fever from his predecessors, and for a long time has been anxious to make the transcontinental railway more attractive by carrying out a highsounding project to make it continuous from Fremantle to Brisbane - from the east coast to the west coast. That would be a very desirable scheme if Australia could afford the expense ; but consider for a moment what it would mean. Three trains a week are run on the east-west railway, and each train cannot accommodate more than 90 passengers. South Australia has to run three trains a week at a loss to handle the transcontinental traffic, although the 270 passengers could be accommodated in one ordinary train. Because there is a break of gauge at Port Augusta, the Government desires to continue the standard gauge, believing, apparently, that people who have been cramped in a railway carriage for three days cannot carry their luggage across a station platform to enter another train. As a matter of fact, the walk and exercise are a positive benefit to them. The Prime Minister said that, in order to increase the present traffic of 270 passengers per week, it was proposed to build a railway to Red Hill. Years ago, the South Australian Public Works Committee investigated a proposal to build that line, and found that it would show an annual loss of £135,000. If this extension is to make the transcontinental railway more attractive, the attraction will certainly not be felt by the taxpayers. The proposed Grafton to South Brisbane railway is only one portion of the complete scheme put forward by the Commonwealth. The other parts are the sections from Grafton to Hay, and from Hay to Port Augusta. Recently the Melbourne Age published a statement by Mr. Kernot, the Victorian Chief Engineer for Railway
Construction, one of the most eminent constructing engineers in Australia. In criticizing the Commonwealth’s scheme, he pointed out that, under an agreement between New South Wales and Victoria, which should have been made 30 years ago. Victoria is extending its railway - across the Murray River into New South Wales. The best of the Riverina country, on the northern side of the river, will be served by lines that are now in course of construction, and there will be nothing left for the Grafton to Port Augusta line but a stretch of dry and second-rate pastoral, country, over which the maximum traffic of 270 passengers per week will be carried. As a matter of fact, probably 200 of them will be booked for Adelaide or Melbourne, and only 70 will be left to be carried over that enormous length of line to the eastern seaboard. The statements made by Mr. Kernot should be investigated. A new railway running through even good pastoral country is not profitable at the outset, but God help the Government that builds a line through second-rate pastoral country !
– Did not the Government submit this line to the National caucus?
– No. If it had done so I would have obtained some expert opinion about it very quickly, and would have given it to the public and the Parliament. In submitting a proposal like this without essential safeguards, the Government is not treating this Parliament fairly. The House should insist upon those safeguards being provided before itgives approval to this section of the general unification scheme. I kuow something of this proposal, because I was in office when the report upon the unification of gauges was received from the experts who had been brought, from Great Britain and America, and when it was first submitted to the Premiers’ Conference. I admit readily that for the amount of money to be expended the railway from Grafton to South Brisbane will yield a better result than will any other portion of the complete unification scheme recommended by the experts. It will also remove one of the breaks of gauge - that will be a blessing - and with proper consultation and advice from experts, the other break of gauge at Port Augusta- could be removed by a line which, instead of making an annual loss of £135,000, would make no loss at all. This hit-or-miss policy which the Government is submitting will be disastrous. It is a disgrace to the Parliament, and the sooner there is an investigation, and this sort of administration terminates, the better for everybody. While the Commonwealth is ready to add to the nonpaying railways by building new lines through the dry country of the northern states, to carry a handful of passengers, for fourteen years it has failed to recognize its responsibilities to honour a solemn agreement with South Australia to develop the great Northern Territory. By its neglect the Commonwealth has been postponing development in that direction. If about £1,500,000 had been spent ten or twelve years ago in extending the Oodnadatta line northwards, tremendous development, which would have astonished (he people of Australia, would already have taken place. An outlet would have been provided for prime fat cattle that would have been a godsend to people in the metropolitan areas during periods of drought when they were starving for meat, and buying inadequate supplies at famine prices. The House would be justified in giving a week’s consideration to this bill. I should be glad to see this portion of the complete unification scheme tackled, but I cannot conceive how any Government can ask honorable members to vote for this proposal until by act of Parliament the obligation is placed upon the states of New South Wales and Queensland to contribute their quota towards the complete scheme even though it be not carried out for the next 20 or 30 years. I say, frankly, that there is no chance of its being completed for 50 years, but the liability of those two states should be indisputably established, so that when the complete scheme is undertaken the honouring of their responsibility will not be left to the whims of changing Governments. In the absence of information that we ought to have, I have no option but to vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Kooyong. It is a fair amendment. We want solid, reliable information. There would be nothing improper in referring this work to the Public Works Committee, although the railway will not be constructed by the Commonwealth.
– The Commonwealth will participate in the construction of it.
– That is all the more reason why we should have the fullest possible information. I cannot conceive that New South Wales or Queensland would regard it as an affront if we referred this question to the Public Works Committee.
– I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). During this debate I have been interested, amused, and sometimes annoyed by the use of the expression “ broad national grounds.” I do not make the claim tonight that I am going to speak on “broad national grounds.” I am, on this occasion, quite prepared to be called a parochial ist. When any representative of a state has seen his state treated as South Australia has been treated in railway matters, it is time he became a parochialist. My first reason for opposing the bill is that while it is allegedly for the unification of the railway gauges, it is really for the pacification of Dr. Earle Page and his supporters. Its object is to delude the people of this country into the belief that it is the intention of the Government to unify the gauges of the railway lines that connect all the capital cities. If that was really the intention the start would not be made in three districts represented by supporters of the Government. Other districts besides those three would be considered. I resent this pacification movement. I protest against making all other parts of Australia, suffer for the benefit of certaindistricts represented by members who have some power in the coalition. I am not prepared to vote for any more Commonwealth railways until the Commonwealth Government produces tangible evidence of honouring the agreement made with South Australia fourteen years ago. I have quite made up my mind on that, and so long as I am here I shall stand by it. In my opinion, it is dishonorable for a Government to continue to treat the State of South Australia as it has been treated after handing over a large tract of country on condition that the railway would be built. The Public Works Committee was required to report on that railway, not only from the southern, but also from the northern, end. There wore three Queenslanders on that committee. I mention this for the benefit of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), who spoke about the “ spoilt child.” There are two spoilt children in the Australian family; one is New South Wales, and the other is Queensland. New South Wales has cried out continuously for the Commonwealth to honour the agreement for the building of the Federal Capital, and she is on the way to realizing her ambition in that direction. The first portion of the northern railway in the Northern Territory is to be constructed only on the understanding that the next portion of it will swing across to Queensland. The railway is not being built with the idea that it shall form part of a north-south railway, but on condition that when it reaches Newcastle Waters it shall swing to the east to Camooweal. Regarding the proposal to build a railway from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs-
– The honorable member is scarcely in order in discussing the north-south railway line.
– Seeing that we are dealing with what purports to be the broad question of the unification of gauges, I contend that I am justified in discussing any railway lines.
– The honorable member will find that he is not permitted to do so.
– I have found, by experience, that the right honorable gentleman who occupies the Chair has the power to enforce his decisions, and that I must submit to him.
– I am glad the honorable member recognizes that.
– I have to recognize it, for no other course is open to me. My third reason for opposing the bill is that the proposal has not been referred to the Public Works Committee. The Oodnadatta to Alice Springs railway was referred to the Public Works Committee, which reported favorably upon it. Following the report of the committee the Government sent a Minister to the district, and although he, too, reported favorably, the Government has refrained from doing anything. Now a proposal is made to build a railway in New South Wales and Queensland at a cost of £3,500,000, and because part of it is in the Treasurer’s electorate, and because the Treasurer has great power in ending or mending the coalition–
– That statement is unwarranted.
– I consider that it is warranted, otherwise I should not make it. I see my own state sacrificed so that a railway can be built in New South Wales in the interests of the coalition Government. The bill makes a doormat of South Australia. As the proposed railway in the Northern Territory, which had an agreement behind it, was referred to the Public Works Committee, this railway, to construct which the Government is not bound by an agreement, should also be referred to that committee. Why is there any hurry to deal with this matter ? The hurry is because the Government is afraid that the political pact will break down. The Treasurer says the pact is in danger, and for that reason the bill is being pushed through the House. I also oppose the bill for the reasons stated by the honorable member for Kooyong. There is nothing in the bill to bind New South Wales or Queensland to finish the job of unifying the gauges. It is a loose, haphazard bill, and I cannot support it.
– I am opposed to the bill for the reason that, although we are told that the railway will cost, approximately, £3,500,000, wo have no definite data before us. The interest on the assumed cost of construction will amount to £210,000 per annum. There should be a permanent survey of the proposed line, and the cost, roughly £11,000 for Queensland, and £5,000 for New South Wales, should be borne by those states. That would enable us to know exactly where the line is to go. There should also be prepared a careful estimate of the cost of compensating owners of the land through which the line will pass. We should be furnished with particulars as to the material required for the permanent way, such as rails, sleepers, points, andcrossings, and the necessary earthworks, bridges, and culverts; in fact, all the surveying, engineering, and general charges. I require all those particulars to be submitted before I record my vote. At the present time honorable members have practically no data before them; they are asked to support a theoretical proposition. I have never heard of such a proposal being sub mitted to a Parliament. If honorable members were directors of a company, and agreed to the building of a railway under these conditions, they would be hounded out of their positions. The shareholders in this instance are the people of Australia, and it is incumbent upon the House to know exactly how every penny of the people’s money is to be spent. I point out that the agreement does not make the states responsible for their share in the cost of the work. The bill is not creditable to the Government, and honorable members should not be asked to vote on it in the absence of the data that should be furnished to enable them to come to a proper determination. We do not know what the rolling-stock will cost, or what the loss will be. The whole of the work is to be handed over to a railway council, which will be able to spend money as it wishes. Once the bill is passed, Parliament will have no control over the expenditure. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) has stated that the Government will, of course, have to find the money, and we all know that once a work of this nature is commenced it will have to be completed. I shall vote for the amendment.
.- There have been many reasons advanced as to why this proposal should be regarded from a broad national stand-point. I am reminded of an incident at the opening of the Coolgardie water scheme. The weather was hot, and the public houses were doing a good business. At one of the many functions held in connexion with the event, the late Sir George Reid made a fine speech, in the course of which he said that he had never heard so much talk about water, and had never seen so little of it drunk. The moral I wish to point is obvious. I do not know whether there has been much evidence of a broad national spirit in connexion with the introduction of this bill.
– The honorable member ought to ask for the adjournment of the debate.
– The measure is certainly worthy of the most careful consideration. I understand that the Government desires to take a division tonight, but it would be wise if time were allowed to enable honorable members to think over the proposal. It seems to me strange that, after a speech such as that of the honorable member for Kooyong, no member of the Government has risen to reply and explain the position from the Ministerial point of view. In my fairly long parliamentary experience I have never known a Ministry to adopt such an attitude as this Government appears to have assumed over the present measure. It practically says, “ Here is the bill. We have the numbers, and we intend to put it through.” The honorable member for Kooyong advanced very grave and cogent reasons for reconsideration of the agreement. In few Parliaments would a course of procedure such as has been adopted in this case be tolerated. If the Commonwealth is to accept the responsibility that the bill places upon it, New South Wales and Queensland should be bound to pay their proportion of the cost of the unification of the gauges throughout Australia. I realize that this work must be carried out so far as the main lines are concerned. We need it for defence, as well as for the trade and commerce of the country. I believe that Victoria and New South Wales would have seriously considered the proposal at the conferenceof Commonwealth and state Ministers had it not been for the tremendous obligations thrust on Australia in consequence of the late war. We might well have waited before venturing upon an expenditure of over £22,000,000. The estimates before us were prepared by gentlemen from other countries who, perhaps, did not have a full knowledge of Australian conditions. In my opinion, if the work were carried out to-day, it would cost considerably more than was estimated by the royal commission.
Mr.Foster. - The estimates, as far as they related to the work necessary in Victoria and South Australia, were not justified.
– I do not think they were, and it is more than probable that the cost will be greater than was supposed. When was the desire of the Government to pass this measure first announced ? I did not hear of it in any speech by the Prime Minister, or in the
Governor-General’s speech. There is no reasonable justification for the expenditure. I now’ ask the Prime Minister if he will agree to the adjournment of the debate.
– No; we must go on.
– It is extraordinary that no ministerial reply has been made to the speech by the honorable member for Kooyong. It appears to be the practice of Ministers to introduce a bill, make a few preliminary remarks on the motion for the second reading, and then expect the House to accept it willy nilly. I do not approve of such a procedure. I hope that at least some honorable members will stand up to their responsibilities in this matter, and will seriously consider the whole situation before they record their votes. I believe the 4 ft. 81/2 in. gauge is the proper gauge for Australia, but if we are tohave a uniform, gauge for the Commonwealth we should not commence in the way proposed. The proper method is to induce South Australia and Victoria to convert their gauges to that adopted by the Commonwealth. Does any one seriously suggest that the construction of this line will aid a general scheme of unification ? I do not think it will. I was impressed by the remarks of the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning), who, in stronglysupporting the bill, directed attention to the inconvenience during drought periods of transferring huge quantities, of fodder at the break of gauge between Victoria and New South Wales. Will any improvement in that direction be affected by the construction of this railway? The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) and other honorable members have dealt exhaustively with this important proposal, and reference has been made to the desirability of the construction of this line being referred to the Standing Committee on Public Works. Under the agreement a council of three, consisting of the Commonwealth engineer for railways, the engineer for railways in New South Wales, and the engineer in chief in Queensland has been appointed with very extensive powers. It is true that the council will have to apply to the Commonwealth in matters of finance, but beyond that they will have plenary powers in the matter of expenditure. According to the agreement the council will have the entire control of -
the expenditure thereon;
It will also have power to employ a staff and the necessary labour to carry out the work contemplated in the agreement. All accounts have to be audited by the AuditorGeneral. When the working expenses of the line have been met the profits are to be apportioned between the contracting parties. As direct expenditure is to be incurred by the Commonwealth, and the conditions of . the agreement make the Commonwealth partners in the undertaking, the construction of the railway is brought within the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act. I am, at present, the chairman of the Public Works Committee, but I have no desire to continue as a member; I am not suggesting that this work should be referred to- the committee merely because I am a member of it. As we have no information concerning the surveys, the financial arrangements or the detailed work to be undertaken, how can we arrive at a reliable estimate ? According to the statement of one honorable member, inspections may be made by an officer riding over the route. . Such’ an officer will have no means of estimating the cost of constructing tunnels or bridges. The whole thing is preposterous.
– It does not matter so long as the pact remains intact!
– It matters a lot to this Parliament.
– It ought to.
– If the Commonwealth is to expend its proportion of the £3,500,000, this House should have some information concerning the financial arrangements, to be made.
– It is fully set out in the schedule.
– Only a little while ago the Treasurer entered into an arrangement with the states under which the Commonwealth was to borrow £10,000,000 on their behalf, but it was not mentioned in the negotiations that £3,500,000 would be required to carry on this work.
– Not this year.
– All the states have been spending large sums, perhaps more than they have been justified in spending. As the Treasurer realizes the huge expenditure involved in converting existing loans, on developmental works, and assisting immigration, he should not support such a proposal. We have been told by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that economy should be exercised, but, apparently, that policy is being disregarded in this instance. Nothing was heard of the construction of this railway until two months ago. We have not the remotest idea if the estimate is a reliable one. . Even if we agree to assist in the construction of a certain portion of the railway, there is no reason why we should be asked to provide a large proportion of the money required for relaying and regrading 75 miles of a state railway. If Parliament is not to allow this matter to be investigated by the Public Works Committee provision will have to be made that a bridge, which is to cost over £1,000,000, shall be completed by the time the line is opened.
– The bridge is to,cost only £400,000.
– The cost has been given at £1,000,000.
– The New South Wales Government is providing for that.
– We have not been so informed.
– The Prime Minister made that clear.
– I have only heard the cost from honorable members. It is the duty of this Parliament to have full details concerning its construction. If we are to contribute a portion of the cost of the line it should be provided in the agreement that when an extension of the uniform gauge is carried out New South “Wales and Queensland shall be compelled to pay their share of the cost of such extensions.
– Is the Prime Minister prepared to grant an adjournment of the debate ?
– I do not intend to allow this scandalous proposal to go through without discussion. The bill, to which a map is attached, was thrown on the table, but little informationwas given. As a keen business man, would the Prime Minister invest his money in such a project on such flimsy estimates?
-It will be one of the most reproductive works in Australia.
– Because it is to pass through electorates which the Treasurer and three other supporters of the Government represent. Mr. Alex. Smith, in delivering an address in which he gave the history of railway gauges in Australia, said -
In the “ fifties “ far-seeing advisers of the colonies, who had a near acquaintance with the merits of the gauge controversy, decided, upon the broader “Irish,” or 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. The colonics of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia endorsed the choice, and made it the standard - in New South Wales by Act of Parliament. Possibly an even wider gauge might have been recommended had rolling-stock of wider gauge been a market article.
Victoria and South Australia abode loyally by the contract and commenced construction. Then New South Wales changed its policy, its engineer, and its gauge, and the unique opportunity for obtaining uniformity was wilfully thrown away. Since then various other gauges have been introduced on the plea of their suitability for cheap pioneer development. That claim - temporary expediency - is the only valid reason for their introduction.
That was quoted when we discussed the gauge of the east-west railway in 1911. The report is of the first meeting held by the engineers of the three states - South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. On the motion of the New South Wales delegate, it was agreed that the gauge for Australia should be 5 ft. 3 in. Immediately after the conference, Victoria set out to construct a line of 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. South Australia did the same. There was, however, in New South Wales a change of engineers, and with it a change of policy and of gauge. That is the reason for the present lack of uniformity. Queensland established a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, and has carried out considerable development with railways on that gauge. For the most part, the Westtern Australian railways are of the same gauge as those of Queensland. It is of no use for us now to cry over spilt milk, but that change of policy on the part of New South Wales caused the great trouble of the gauges from which Australia is suffering to-day. Nor does it help us now to say that either gauge is better than the other. The 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge was decided upon because that was the gauge of the first locomotive made by George Stephenson. Britain adopted the gauge of Stephenson, and as America in the firstinstance obtained her locomotives from Britain, her gauge also became 4 ft. 81/2in. The railways of Ireland are of 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, while the main lines of India have a gauge of 5 ft. 6 in. Mr. Harriman, one of the greatest of American engineers, said that if he had his way the gauge would be 6 feet. The amendment by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) is a desirable one. In New South Wales, Victoria, and other states, the various Railways Standing Committees, after taking evidence and inspecting alternative routes, have frequently recommended the construction of railways along routes entirely different from those in the proposals referred to them. Numbers of proposals for developmental and strategic railways have been made from time to time. I have here the report on a proposed strategic railway made in August, 1915, by Mr. A. Combes, an engineer of repute, who was engaged by the then Minister for Home Affairs to try to devise a scheme whereby railways could be constructed that would be of both a strategic and developmental nature. He had with him plans showing the railways of Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland. In the first paragraph of his report he said -
An alternative scheme to that recently investigated by the writer for connecting the east-west railway with the New South Wales system and Bri sbane, has been proposed or suggested by the New South Wales authorities. Accordingto the Melbourne Age of the- 6th May, 1915, “Mr. Holman has a proposal. which he believes will save about £4,000,000 on the line from the west. The sections of the route from Western Australia which he suggests are: - Perth to Kalgoorlie, to Port Augusta, to Cockburn, to Broken Hill, to Condobolin, to Parkes, to Barradine, to Narrabri, to Moree, to Goondiwindi, to Milmerran, to Brisbane; totalling 2,608 miles.” In the Melbourne Argus of the 11th May, 1915, it is stated: - “The New South Wales Ministry, which was responsible for the latter proposal showed that only 194 miles of construction would be necessary, apart from what the states were committed to, and leaving out the loop to Melbourne; while Mr. Fisher’s proposal involved the building of 1,020 miles of new lines.”
Parkes is a railway junction with lines running north, south, east, and west, connecting with other railways. It is 272 miles west of Sydney, and is a common point in the New South Wales scheme for linking up the eastwest line with Sydney and Brisbane, and presumably Melbourne.
I quote that for the reason that Mr. Holman was primed with certain information supplied by his own officials, and he was able from that information to promulgate a certain scheme to reduce the length of railway construction by no less than 1,000 miles and yet give to South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland a desirable connexion by a different route from that now proposed. I do not suppose that it would matter very much to Queensland and New South Wales what part of their territory was traversed by the railway so long as it served the purposes of defence and development, for which it was designed. A great deal has been said during this debate respecting unification of railway gauges to permit of a better defensive scheme for Australia. A considerable length of railway in New South Wales and Victoria has been duplicated. I favour the duplication of railways in preference to unification of gauges. A leading military officer of Australia-, when giving evidence before the Public Accounts Committee, said that if he were asked what was the best proposition for Australia from a defence point of view, he would favour the duplication of present lines in preference to a uniform gauge. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) informed honorable members that railway unification was urgently needed for defence purposes. Yet this officer, one of the leading military advisers on the Council of Defence of Australia, said that troops with their accoutrements, &c, could be moved more speedily and expedi- tiously on duplicated lines than on one line of a uniform gauge. I should like to know of what use this proposed short line of railway from Grafton to South Brisbane would be in the defence of Australia. It it quite true, as the Prime Minister has said, that it is only a commencement of the general scheme of unification. This line, if constructed, would certainly serve one of the most productive parts of Australia. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), whose opinion as Chairman of the Public Works Committee, is of great value, pointed out that we have little or no information regarding this big project, upon which it is proposed to expend £3,500,000. No business man would think of carrying out this proposal unless he had full information at his disposal. It is scandalous that honorable members, who claim to be intelligent, should be prepared calmly to accept this proposal. The estimated cost of £3.500,000 will be the first cost only. If New South Wales and Queensland were prepared to provide the staffs to carry out this work the Commonwealth would of necessity appoint its own engineers as well as inspectors to supervise it. This alone would cost thousands of pounds. The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Whitsitt) said that the interest cost on this line would be £210,000 per annum. I believe that it would be nearer £250,000.
– This line will be reproductive immediately it is completed. It will be the best paying line in Australia.
– Even if the railway is constructed expeditiously it will be years before it will be a revenue-producing proposition.
– It will pay from the first day that it is opened.
– The Treasurer has a vivid imagination. He has used logrolling tactics in his endeavour to carry this bill. Why should the people of Australia pay for the regrading of a line from Grafton to Kyogle ? This measure would never have been introduced were the Treasurer a representative of any constituency other than Cowper. This is .political pull with a vengeance. The ordinary burglar uses decent tactics, and the police have a chance of arresting him, but the Treasurer, shielded by his Ministerial rank, and because he is a component part of the Composite Ministry, and has by a fluke gained the Treasurership of the Commonwealth., deftly dips his hand into the public purse to provide for the expenditure oil’ a railway from Grafton to. Kyogle It is disastrous for Australia that, such a person should occupy the. treasury bench. The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill) and other Victorian representatives who support this bill, will have to answer to their constituents. There was a good deal in what the honorable member for Wakefield, said, about the cost of the east-west railway. Although it was partly constructed by a government of which I was a supporter, I was not at all times satisfied with the manner in which the work was carried out. Bub on that line there were no engineering difficulties. Given a surveyed, route, an ordinary railway ganger could have built the line. One section of it runs for 300 miles in a direct line across a level plain. Probably there is no section of railway in tlie world to correspond with it. In the Grafton to- South Brisbane project, however, there- will be many engineering difficulties. The bridge across the Clarence River will cost £1,000,000 or more - fortunately we understand that tho Commonwealth will not be called upon to bear any portion of that expenditure - and there are other rivers and creeks to be crossed, and mountains to be tunnelled ; yet this House, rs asked to support a costly and difficult engineering scheme of this character on the mere ipse dixit of the Prime Minister, who, after the briefest possible explanation, said that the Government intended to proceed with this agreement, and threw the bill upon the table.
– The honorable member is making a good speech, and we should have a quorum to listen to it. [Quorum formed.]
– I draw the attention of honorable members to some remarks made by Mr. (now Sir Joseph.) Cook, in regard to the east-west railway, on the 6th October, 1911 -
Whenever a railway proposal is put before a. State Parliament plana and specifications ace always laid, upon the table,, so that all details may “ be thoroughly studied before a vote is taken.
I quite agree with -that statement, and it hoa even greater application to the proposal now before the House. For the last 35’ or 30 years no- railway construction hat been undertaken in Victoria without preliminary elaborate investigation of every detail and a. report to Parliament by a Standing Committee. I understand that New SOUth Wales has for a number of years maintained at considerable expense a similar committee to investigate- all railway projects, and that committee has saved the state immense sums pf money. The cost of its investigations is a mere bagatelle in comparison with tho service it is able to render to Parliament, by advising it iia regard to railway proposals. Following the lead of the states, this Parliament established a Public Works Committee, and provided that no public work involving ali expenditure of more- than £25,000- should be undertaken until it had been inquired into and reported upon by that body. Certain naval and military works were exempted from tho committee’s purview, and I agree with the honorable member for .Kooyong (Mr. Lanham) that an act of .Parliament authorizing the carrying out of a particular work would probably override the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act. . However, that committee it ready to carry out an investigation oi this railway project at short notice, and by so doing it would render good service to- the people. I know of nc proposal submitted to this Parliament that had more need of preliminary investigation. The Prime Minister, in explaining the bill, raked up- a little ancient history regarding proposals for the unification oi railway gauges,, and supplemented it with a few platitudes-. His proposal is not backed up by any official reports, and certainly not by permanent surveys. The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Whitsitt) rightly, said that a manager who submitted a proposition to. a board oi directors in the .same casual way as the Prime Minister introduced the bill to the House would bo. sacked. No company oi private individual would entertain such a flimsy proposal, and what we would noil do with private funds we should not dc with public funds. It is true that th, proposed line, will traverse a good deal oi fertile country. But such country alway increases the difficulties of construction. The honorable member for Darwin could give innumerable instances of what I am saying. In that wonderful Flowerdale country of Tasmania, fertile soil and bac roads, generally go together. That wiL be our. experience in the construction, oi this proposed railway, The line will pas/ through most difficult country. In view of all the circumstances it is reasonable to ask that an ‘ investigation be made by the Public Works Committee before Parliament sanctions this huge expenditure of money.
– In any case are we to bc kept here all night to deal with the measure ?
– It would appear that we are.. I thought that the Prime Minister would have shown sympathy for the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), who asked for the adjournment of the debate a little while ago,- and I am quite sure that, but for the lateness of the hour, that honorable member would have had a great deal more to say in opposition to the .proposal. There is ample evidence of political engineering in connexion with this bill, but up to the present we have had no evidence of engineering knowledge having been availed of by the Government in the presentation of the scheme. I dislike adopting tactics to delay public business. If this bill were urgent, and if the Government had presented it properly, stating exactly how it expected to obtain the necessary money, the probabilities are that the House would have voted the money quite readily. But whilst I am a member of this House I shall insist upon my right to obtain information. On more than one occasion this insistence has placed me in the black (books of my own party. Even when the Labour Government had a majority, both )here and in another place, I was “ game” enough - I say this without boasting - to keep our own Government up all night in opposition to some of its own proposals. If necessary I shall do the same again. In matters that are essential members of the Labour party are united, but in regard to non-essentials we have complete freedom for the expression of individual opinions. This bill, as a non-party measure, should be discussed from the Australian point of view. I have nothing to say against New South Wales or Queensland. I have spent many pleasant hours in both states, and I deny any suggestion of parochialism in my attitude towards this proposal; but I insist om the fullestinformation being furnished to this House before I vote for the bill. Refersences have been made to what some honorable members term the narrowness of the Victorian view in regard to Australian affairs. What would have been the position to-day of the Riverina country in
New South Wales but for the developmental schemes of the Victorian Government? And what would have been the position of North Queensland, and of the Western Australian gold-fields but for enterprising Victorians who blazed the trail ? This state, though small in area compared with the other mainland ‘ states, is more thoroughly developed, and its people are prepared at all times to take a sane view of Australian projects. Already the people of the Commonwealth have a huge interest bill to meet. This proposal will add another £250,000 to the load. The Prime Minister, in his second - reading? speech,- stated that the first real discussion on the unification of railway gauges took place in 1921. The right honorable gentleman is very much behind the times. - Every one knows that the construction of the east-west railway on the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge really fixed the standard -gauge for Australia. The ‘ honorable member for Lang will bear me out in this statement. He must remember the discussion that took place on the measure providing for that line. I again urge the Government to allow this proposal to be inquired into by the Public Works Committee, a body representative of all parties in both branches of the legislature. It is a very competent committee, well equipped to conduct an inquiry, and make a recommendation to this House. Valuable evidence could be obtained from the engineers-in-chief of the New South Wales and Queensland railways, and members of the committee themselves could traverse the route. I agree with the honorable member for Swan in his criticism of the suggestion made by the honorable member for Macquarie that the engineering difficulties could be ascertained by a superficial examination of the route. The honorable member for Macquarie said that an engineer only needed to walk over portion of the country to decide what the line would cost. If he had to pay for the line out of his own pocket he would not be satisfied with that kind of estimate, but would require a careful scrutiny to be made of every detail. The Government should try to be as businesslike as a private firm. An agreement was reached to construct the north-south railway line, and was ratified’ by Act of Parliament. Notwithstanding that, the Government directed the Public Works Committee to inquire into the cost of construction of that railway. Tho committee’ made inquiries’ bothinthe south and at the north end. Ifit was essential in’ that case that the committee should hold an inquiry, how much more essential is inquiry in this instance? We should be informed whether the railway will follow the route of the 3-ft. 6-in. line. Some of the excavations and tunnellings of the existing line should be serviceable for the new line. Information should be supplied on that matter before honorable members, are asked to vote on the bill. Eighteen months or two years ago an agreement was made between New South Wales and Victoria to construct Victorian railways, on the 5-ft. 3-iu. gauge, into the Riverina. That agreement was evidence of the breaking down of the parochial spirit that formerly existed between those two states. Victorians always said that they had no feeling against their New South Wales brothers, but there . always seemed to be jealousy on the part of the people of New South Wales. There was a time when the capital of Victoria was the biggest city in Australia, and so long as that condition continued, Sydney was jealous. The credit for developing the Riverinabelongs to Victoria, and the sentiment of the people in the Riverina is Victorian. The natural port for that part of Australia is Melbourne. The state authorities, at any rate, are of opinion that for many years to come the railway gauge in Victoria will be 5 ft. 3 in., and in New South Wales 4 ft. 81/2 in. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. ‘ E. Riley) displayed his broadnundedness by saying that he was in favour of almost immediately unifying the gauge between Sydney and Melbourne. What good would a 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge railway between Albury and Melbourne be to Victoria, with 5-ft. 3-in. lines running into it? An ex-member of the present Government has had a lot to do with certain railway proposals that are in the air. The line from Hay to Port Augusta will almost touch his electorate. Reference to tho map of New South Wales and South Australia shows that one can travel in a westerly direction to Trida, which is the nearest station to Broken Hill, on the 4-ft. 81/2-in gauge. From there to Broken Hill, and from Broken Hill to- Port Augusta, seems to me to be a shorter distance than is covered by the other proposal. There are mountains, creeks, and rivers all along the proposed route . from Hay to Port Augusta. That will necessitate the construction of bridges and culverts.
– It means that it is good country.
– It does. The Minister, however, will agree that good country and bad roads generally go together. In good country the greatest difficulty is experienced in- road and railway construction. The line from Fort Augusta to Kalgoorlie did not present much difficulty. It was a straight run, and an ordinarily good ganger could have constructed it without instruction or supervision. Appearances point to the fact that the Prime Minister intends to give us some information with regard to the proposal. That would not have been obtained but for the vigorous onslaught of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). His contentions, are absolutely unanswerable. He made about half a dozen, points that fairly riddled tho measure. Although the Prime Minister has summoned to his aid the engineer for Commonwealth railways, and has in hia possession information that’ has been given 1o him by officers who ought to know the facts in relation’ to this matter, he cannot at this stage supply the House with the information ‘ that could be obtained if an inquiry were held by the Publie Works Committee. That committee selects its witnesses very wisely. The engineering chiefs in New South Wales and Queensland, and the men who made the preliminary survey, will be able to furnish first-hand information. The committee, I take it, would go over the route in company with officers who would be in a position to advise it ateverystage of the journey. Most valuable data could be collected. The practice of that committee is different from the practice observed by the . Public Accounts Committee. The latter hears practically the whole of its evidence in camera, and all that it submits to Parliament is a report based upon that evidence. Honorable members not only have the benefit of a well-considered report by the Public Works Committee, but they oan also peruse the evidence that has been given before it.. If this matter were investigated by that committee honorable lacmbers would be fortified by its report and the evidence given before it, and they would be able to come to an intelligent decision.
– It would be an absolute waste of time and money.
– It would not. Tha honorable member for East Sydney poses as ono. of our chief financiers, yet he would agree to scatter broadcast £3,500,000 without . ascertaining whether the proposition is a sound one. I have sat atthe feet of this financial Gamaliel, and from him I have learned many things, that have been valuable to me. ; but, by his interjections, I am led to think’ that after all he is not the great financial expert that he claims to be. I could never absolutely lose confidence in the honorable member, but I must, confess that he has shaken my confidence a little by his rash statement that a proposal to expend £3,500,000 needs no inquiry. Clause 4 of the bill, which gives thepower to borrow, is a very vital one. When the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) sat in- the corner opposite as a private member, he was continually endeavouring to switch on the light to see the way in which public funds were being expended. I do not know whether his filament lamp now refuses to function,or whether he has burst the globe; but he no longer engages in that unpleasant occupation, and it devolves upon others to switch the light on the actions, not of those whom he formerly condemned, but of himself. Clause 4 provides -
The Treasurer may, from time to time, under the provisions of the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act 1911-1918, or under the provisions of any act authorizing the issue of treasurybills, borrow moneys not exceeding in the whole the sum of £3,500,000, together with such further sum as is necessary to meet discount and the expenses of borrowing.
That provision strengthens the arguments that I have been, endeavouring to put forward. I was cheered by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook), and received murmurs of approval from the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister), when I stated that we would not get out of this little job with an expenditure of only £3,500,000. The bill itself provides for tho raising of “ such further sum as is necessary to meet . discount and the’ expenses of borrowing.” The Commonwealth engineers will have to exer cise a supervision over the Queensland and New South Wales engineers, to see that they carry out the work properly.
– A couple of million pounds may be added to the cost,
– I was going to say it might involve an extra £500,000. The Treasurer has admitted that an expenditure of more than £3,500,000 is involved. I had hoped that the Prime Minister would adjourn the debate. I remember reading in the press that he had declared, that he did not intend to walk blindly into his grave through the medium of all night sittings, but Honorable, members now find themselves, after midnight, discussing -a most important proposal on which they have been supplied vith meagre information. What ever political camp the honorable member for Kooyong may be in, he has rendered a good service to the country, and I intend to support his amendment.
-The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I regret the tone of the debate, for most of the speakers have shown that they are primarily representatives of the different states. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Penton) has gone to some- pains to emphasize what Victoria has done for the Commonwealth. I regret that the representatives of Western Australia are not in agreement on the measure. It has been said that no proper agreement has been drawn up, but I am inclined to think in any case that those honorable members who have spoken against the bill would have taken up the same attitude if the agreement they seem to require had been provided. I support the’ measure because I desire to see the scheme for the unification of the railway gauges of Australia put into’ effect. A lot of comment has been offered on the delay in transferring, the Seat of Government to Canberra. I contend that it is far more important for this Parliament to do away with the. objectionable breaks of gauge in our railway systems than to hasten to the new capital. The bill proposes the construction of a line on the- standard gauge in a portion of Australia, where- the work will prove a payable proposition. It does not concern me whether the line is to be built in the Treasurer’s electorate. I support tho measure, because I contend that we should adopt the unification scheme recommended by the royal commission.
– Did the honorable member when in the United States of America, see anything like the breaks of gauge in the railway systems of Australia.?
– I have seen nothing like them in any part of the. world. They are a disgrace to the Commonwealth, and the. time has long passed when a start should have been made to remove this blot on transcontinental travelling in Australia. The natural thing to do after passing the bill is to adopt the standard gauge between Brisbane and Fremantle, and whether a link is- made between Hay and Fort Augusta will depend upon the attitude adopted by Victoria and South Australia. Long ago the royal commission decided that 4 ft. . 81/2 in. should be the standard gauge for this country.. South Australia and Victoria object to the decision, because their railways are of . the 5. it. 3 in. gauge, and it is therefore the bounden duty of the Commonwealth to proceed with the scheme. I am glad that a start has been- made, andI have no doubt that Queensland and New South Wales will faithfully carry out their undertaking to pay their share towards the cost of completing the work of the unification of gauges: If it is thought necessary to state in black and white- that they shall pay their share towards that cost, the necessary agreement can be drawn up when this bill’ has been passed. I trust that not only will the section under- consideration be completed, but that extensions will be made at no distant date, so that before long Australia will have a uniform- gauge from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, enabling, us to compete with steamships, which now occupy an unnecessarily long time in travelling from, the western to the eastern coasts of Australia.
– I was. very much impressed with the able speech delivered by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham).
Honorable members interjecting’ -
– I have allowed considerable liberty during this debate, and I trust that parliamentary decorum- will be preserved,, notwithstanding the lateness, of the- hour..
– I am not often in agreement with the opinions, expressed by the honorable member for Kooyoog. In dealing with this proposal, he was logical,. and said that in unifying the’ Australian-, gauges existing lines should be converted’ before new lines are constructed tofulfil the policy of unification.
The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E.Riley) interjecting -
– Interjections are disorderly. Audible conversation . must cease.
– I was only whispering.
– If the honorable member disregards the direction of the Chair, I shall be compelled to name him.
-You can do that. if you wish. I can then go home to sleep.
– I name the honorable member for South Sydney.
– Before- proceeding to take the only course, open to. me, I ask the honorable member for South Sydneyto withdraw the remarks to which objection has been taken, and to apologize to the Chair. It is impossible for us to carry en our deliberations unless the Chair, has the support of all honorable members.
– At your request,I withdraw what I said’.
– The procedure adopted by the Government in presenting’ this proposal to the House is most irregular. This undertaking certainly should, in the. first instance, have been- referred to the Public Works Committee for report. The information supplied is incomplete. As mentioned by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr.. Fenton), the estimated expenditure of £3,500,000 is only a: first instalment, and it is reasonable- to assume- that that will not be the total sum involved in the project. In these circumstances,, the- whole question should be investigated and reported upon by some, competent body. I cannot understand why this proposal should receive priority over other projects which have been before the Government for a considerable time,, some of which have been handed down by preceding Governments. Surely it is the intention of this Government to honour a compact entered into with South Australia some years ago for the construction of the north-south railway. I should be neglecting my duty if I did not direct attention to. the position in which SouthAustralia is placed in consequence of the continued delay in the honouring of a long-standing arrangement. The present propositionis merely to- placate the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) andthe honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green), and it ill becomes this House to support a proposal introduced merely to gain votes for Government members at the next election. I am not familiar with the country which the proposed railway will traverse, and consequently do not know the engineering difficulties to be encountered. So far as the revenue which might be expected from this line is concerned, the reports that I have read’ aro not very promising. On the meagre information supplied, the Souse would be well advised to reject this proposal. Ultimately, the line may be constructed, and may, indeed, prove to have been the right line to mako, but in the absence of the information that this House has a right to expect, we should not agree to the Governments proposal. Proposals for other big undertakings are referred to the Public “Works Committee for investigation and report, and I cannot understand why in this instance there has been a departure from that course. A report from that committee would be a very valuable guide to honorable members in dealing with this matter. I endeavour to take a broad, national view of these proposals. Because of that, I supported the proposal for the establishment of the Federal Capital at Canberra. In that public undertaking every item of work was investigated, and thus a guide was afforded to honorable members. But it would appear that in connexion with this proposal influences are at work of which we have no definite knowledge, but it may be that they will yet be revealed. In that case, more may be heard concerning this matter at a more convenient season. Until the Government announces its intention regarding the construction of the north-south railway, especially as to the linking up of Alice Springs with some point on the southern railways, I am not prepared to vote for the spending of £1 more on new railways. “Why has there been such long delay in connexion with that line?
– There would bo no loss in connexion with this railway, as there would be with the north-south railway.
– I do not know where the honorable member obtained the information to enable him to say that, as no official figures have been placed before us to show that the line would be a paying proposition. From unofficial information which has been received, I understand that the construction of this new line would not assist in placing more than 2,000 persons on the land.
– That report referred to New South Wales only.
– If that report is correct, it is a serious condemnation of the Government that has brought forward this proposal. It is evident that there is a conflict of - opinion - regarding this matter. That being so, I feel that the Government has not acted fairly towards honorable members in withholding from them information with which they should be supplied concerning this proposal. If the line from Alice Springs were constructed it would tap some of the richest pastoral country in Austrafia. Tho benefit to be derived from the development of the mineral resources of the Northern Territory would justify the construction of the north-south line, and it should certainly take preference of tho proposal before the House, which is to serve private more than public interests. The close of this debate will not mean that the last has been said of this matter. The Prime Minister will one day receive a rude awakening. He will then realize that in introducing a measure such as this he . proved himself devoid of statesmanship. He will regret that he did not follow a wiser course, and submit the proposal to the Public Works Committee, a body constituted to safeguard Parliament against irregular practices likely to be detrimental to the best interests of the Commonwealth.
– I regret that many extraneous matters have been introduced into the discussion of the proposal to build a railway from Grafton to South Brisbane. Many honorable members have lost sight of the fact that this proposal is the firststep towards the unification of the gauges in Australia. Honorable members have referred to the delay in building the north-south line, and have condemned the Government for not carrying out its obligation to the South Australian Government and people to build that line. It is within the knowledge of honorable members, certainly of those representing South Australia, that on several occa- stone since .this Government came into office I have frankly declared that the Government recognizes its obligation to build the north-south line. During the last few weeks negotiations have been proceeding with the Government of South Australia with a view to taking definite action, and I anticipate making an announcement within the next few days respecting the policy of the Commonwealth Government. The building of the northsouth railway does not come into the discussion at all. The bill concerns the unification of gauges, and I suggest to honorable members that they should not be influenced by the introduction of other matters into this debate. There is an interesting history attached to the proposed line from Kyogle to South Brisbane. Its construction was approved by the people in every one of the states. But to-day the people of “Victoria are totally opposed to the railway, and arguments have been adduced to show that it would be a mistake to build it, that it is unnecessary, and would be useless when completed. Yet it is not two years since the press of Victoria contended that the building of this line was imperative, and that the Victorian Premier and his Ministers were lacking in statesmanship in not consenting to its construction. The same attitude was apparent in the other states. A change of opinion has arisen. At a conference last year between the Commonwealth and the states, it was found impossible to proceed with the general unification scheme laid ‘ down by the royal commission that inquired into this project. An alternative scheme was submitted to the conference providing for the immediate const-ruction of a line from Port Augusta to Hay. The construction of railways from Brisbane to Kyogle, from Hay to Port Augusta, and from Kalgoorlie to Perth would have provided a transcontinental line from east to west, and would have been the first step towards the unification of the gauges, without interfering in any way with the general scheme laid down by the royal commission for the unification of the whole of the lines. The proposal to build a- line from Port Augusta to Hay was considered by the conference, but it was not possible to arrive at unanimity regarding it. The Commonwealth Government, not having been able to secure the concurrence of the states, did not proceed with its suggestion to build that line; it concentrated upon -the proposals embodied in the royal commission’s report, and now advocates, as a first instalment of the general unification scheme, the construction of a line” from Grafton to Brisbane. -That project is in no way related to the Hay to Port Augusta line.. The people of Victoria and South Australia have a contrary impression, which they are allowing to blind their judgment as to the merits of this line. The Hay to Port Augusta line can be built only if the Commonwealth Government again brings it forward as a work to be undertaken, and at the present time there is no indication of that. The royal commission recommended two alternative schemes, one involving a cost of £21,600,000, and the other a cost of- £57,200,000. There seems to be some confusion of thought regarding the attitude of the states towards that report. The states adopted the commission’s recommendation, that the standard gauge should be 4 ft. 8 J in. The Commonwealth Government desired that they should adopt the rest of the report and proceed to carry it into effect. No finality was reached in the form of a signed document, but there was not at the conference any. shadow of difference of opinion between the Commonwealth and the states, or between the Commonwealth and any individual state, as to the adoption and carrying out of the commission’s recommendations.’ The only difference of opinion was as to when effect should ‘ be given to it. The Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia desired to proceed immediately with the first steps necessary to give effect to the £21,600,000 scheme. The States of Victoria and South Australia said that the time was not ripe for undertaking such a work. They referred to the high cost of labour and material, and raised many other objections; but I wish - to emphasize to the House that there was unanimity regarding the adoption of the scheme and its ultimate completion. Similarly, in regard to the proposal to build a railway from Grafton to South Brisbane, every state, through its representatives, approved of the construction of the line. Upon that point also the only difference was as to the ‘date on which the work should be undertaken. That was the state of affairs after the conference in November, 1921, and in January, 1922. At the 1923 conference a different, situation arose. Not having found it possible to press on with the general scheme, the Commonwealth .Government suggested, as an alternative, the construction of a Une from Hay to Port Augusta. That was not accepted by the conference, and we fell back on our . original proposal. Deeming it imperative that a commencement with the unification of gauges should be made, the Commonwealth representatives sought to get approval of the construction of the first section from Grafton to South Brisbane. There were two reasons why that section of tho general unification scheme was chosen as the first to be undertaken, namely, (1) that it was given priority in the recommendation of the. royal commission, and (2) that it would open up new country, would offer a prospect et earning within a reasonable time interest on the capital invested, and was preferable to the mere. conversion of an existing line to the standard gauge, thereby adding to the capital charges to be borne by that line; The Commonwealth entered’ into negotiations with the two states that were willing to proceed with this first section of the unification scheme, and the result is the agreement now before the House. Honorable members, should understand that the representatives ‘ of Western Australia were desirous that the scheme should1 be proceeded with at once. . At - none of the conferences in November, 1921, January, 1922, or 1923, did they ‘express any opposition to it; on the contrary, they were as enthusiastically in- favour of it as were the representatives of any other state. Some honorable members have suggested that the proposal now before the House is not properly part of a unification scheme. They admitted* that the royal commission had mentioned it; but, in order to dissociate it from the general scheme, they suggested that this recommendation was not part of the commission’s legitimate functions. Indeed, the honorable member for’ Kooyong went so far as to analyze the meaning of the word “unification,” and endeavoured to convince the House that the term could not be held to include a new line.
– Technically, he was right ; hut having regard to the report of the royal commission, he was not.
– Technically, he may have’ been rig]*, although I found his reasoning difficult to. follow ; but it is perfectly obvious that practically he was hopelessly wrong. The royal commissionhas always been known as the Unification of Railway Gauges Royal Commission. Possibly that was a misnomer - although I do not think it was - but amongst the duties delegated to the commission in the terms of reference were : -
Quite distinctly, new lines were included in the terms of reference. The commission, in its report, did refer to the new lines that were necessary, and, amongst them was that from Kyogle to: South Brisbane. The estimated cost of £2.1,600,000 represented - alterations to existing railways and structures, £9,012,000; any new lines necessary, £6,873,000; adjustments, to rolling-stock. £5,715,000. Having regard to these facts, I suggest to the House that there is nothing in the contention of the honorable member for Kooyong that tho Grafton’ to- South Brisbane railway, being a new line, was outside the scope of the royal commission, and cannot form part of a general unification scheme. It is, I think, clear that the* recommendation of the royal commission with regard to new lines was- properly made, because’ the-, express terms of reference show that the indication of new lines was necessary for a proper unification, scheme.. The next’ point upon which the scheme has been challenged! is that a wrong principle has been introduced by the Commonwealth in undertaking to bear more than onefifth of the proposed expenditure. It has been- urged that the. Commonwealth should not- have undertaken responsibility for the expenditure of the states that did not join in with the. proposal. That point, I think,’ has been wrongly taken. I am perfectly certain, and I think every other honorable gentleman in this House is also certain, - that eventually all the states will come into the unification scheme. There are- two reasons why this was the proper way to deal with the proposal. In the first place, unless the. Government had taken- up this attitude, it would- have been-, impossible ‘ to proceed with any scheme for- the unifies- ti on of the- railways. If theCommonwealth hadbeen in a, generous mood it could have approached the States of Queensland and New South Wales with a proposal to bear its share of the cost of the Kyogle to Brisbane line. But the construction of ordinary lines is a state function. Consequently the Commonwealth decided that the agreement must be that the Commonwealth would bear one-fifth of the cost, and the several states their proper share under the unification scheme, but that some arrangement should be made to finance the proportion of expenditure to be charged against ‘ those states which, at present, are not parties to the proposal. I feel sure that this must only be a temporary financial arrangement, because the states at present outside the agreement will eventually come in. For the present the ‘Commonwealth will finance the proposal on the original basis, agreed to by all the states under the unification scheme, : and the matter -will be adjusted later when the other states come in. This arrangement,Isuggest, is a perfectly proper one, if the Kyogle-Brisbane proposal is to be regarded as the first step towards the unification of the gauges, about which there should bet no doubt. The Government has entered into the scheme because it believes that a start must be made with the unification of the railways gauges of Australia. If a start is not made now it will be impossible to get the work done later, . because the cost will then have become absolutely prohibitive. The other -point taken by critics of the proposal was that no survey bad been made and no information was available to honorable members. That point also was quite wrong.
– There is no information before the House.
– During the inquiry by the royal commission into the question of unification, estimates were prepared- by the railway constructional -engineers of New South Wales and Queensland concerning this section of the line. Those estimates were submitted to the royal commission, -and members of that body made a personal inspection -of the proposed route. When definite- action was contemplated the railways ‘officials of New South Wales made a trial survey. Since then a working survey has been made by Queensland to. the Queensland border . and a similar, survey is now being made of the New
South Wales section of the line. When it appeared -that finality might be reached-, the chief constructional engineers of Queensland and New South Wales, together with the Commonwealth EngineerinChief for Railway Construction went over the route, and fixed the standards for permanent way, grades, curves, &c.
– When was that done?
– In May of last year. The honorable, member for Kooyong has urged that the proposal should have been submitted to the Public Works Committee for inquiry and report. It has also been suggested that what the Government has done in connexion with this matter has never been done before. I remind honorable members that the Murray River works, upon . which we are expending much more money than is proposed to be expendedon the Kyogle-Brisbane railway, were not referred to the Public Works Committee. Those works have been carried out in the same way as is contemplated in connexion with this proposal.
– There is no comparison between the two undertakings.
– The three riparian states and the Commonwealth are joined together in the carrying out of the Murray River waters scheme.
– - On the recommendation of an expert from America.
– The position of the Kyogle-Brisbane railway is exactly the same. The work is being done on the recommendation of expert commissioners. It is proposed that the . constructional work shall be entrusted to the representatives of the two states concerned, and of ‘ the Commonwealth. On the point thatthe proposal should be referred to the Public Works Committee of this Parliament, I should like to say that obviously wecannot arrogate to ourselves the right to . refer to a committee of this Parliament a work which . must be carried out in conjunction, with . two of the states. Such an undertaking must necessarily be referred - if there were a reference to acommittee - to a joint . Public Works Committee, representative of the two states concerned and of. the Commonwealth.
– But we are carrying not only the Commonwealth liability, but also the: liabilities, of three of those states.
– In my opinion, the pro posal to refer the scheme to the Public Works Committee of this Parliament is not a reasonable way of dealing with a problem of this sort. The Commonwealth is entering into an arrangement with two of the states to carry out a certain work, and wo should make provision for the creation of a body or council on which the Commonwealth and the states would have adequate representation. The agreement provides for this, and I think it is a reasonable arrangement which should work quite satisfactorily in exactly the same way as the control of the Murray River works is operating at the present time. It has been suggested that the States of New South Wales and Queensland will benefit very substantially under this agreement, and it is urged that they should be bound in the agreement to cooperate with tho other states in further works that may be carried out. Queensland and New South Wales are the two states that have shown their good faith in this matter, and have proclaimed . that they are prepared to co-operate in providing a uniform railway gauge for the whole of Australia. The fear has been expressed that they will participate in the construction of the railway proposed in the bill, and, having taken all they can get, will have nothing to do with further unification proposals. It has been said that this railway is the only unification work that will need to be done in New South Wales, and that New South Wales will not be heard of again in connexion with unification. I remind honorable members that out of the total of £21,600,000 estimated by the Uniform Gauge Commission as the cost of unifying the gauges, tho quota to be borne by New South Wales was £7,094,000. The work to be done in that state is represented by only £1,657,000, and yet at every conference on thissubject, -New South Wales has ‘been prepared to enter into an agreement with all the other states to unify the gauges. The obvious reason is that the New South Wales Government appreciates the fact that if the New South Wales gauge of 4 ft. 81/2 in. is made uniform throughout Australia, that state, as well as the other states, will benefit.
– The reason of New South Wales is that- its 4 -ft. 81/2-in. gauge lines run through such difficult country that conversion to a different gauge would be very costly.
– The uniform gauge of . 4 ft. 81/2 in. was decided upon on the recommendation of the Uniform Gauge Commission, and all . the states agreed to it.
– But it was really decided when the east-west railway was made to the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge.
– The apportionment of the expenditure on future works will have to be determined when all the . states can be brought into line. Now that the Commonwealth and two states have shown’ that they are in earnest, I hope it will bt possible to get all the states to come into line. If that is not possible we shall have to continue in the piece-meal way is which we have started. The recommendations of the commission include lines from Port Augusta to Adelaide and from Kalgoorlie to Perth. The Commonwealth Government indicated , to the states last year that in its opinion those two lines must be proceeded with. An endeavour will be made to reach an agreement to proceed with those lines, and, with that object in view, the Government is prepared to discuss the matter with representatives of the states. If it cannot make an agreement with all the states, it will proceed in conjunction with any of the states that are agreeable to co-operate. Mr. Prowse. - Is not Western Australia ready to agree now?
– I think so.
– Then why has Western Australia not come in?
– Any one who reads the report of the conference held in May of last year will see that Western Australia was very anxious to come into the agreement, but hesitated on the brink. I hare no doubt that that state will join with the Commonwealth and the other states, in due season. I want to make it. quite clear that the Government regards the establishment of a uniform gauge as of paramount importance to Australia. Some honorable members have said that the building of the line from Kyogle to Brisbane is due to considerations other than that of making a start with the establishment of a uniform gauge, or prompting the general interests of the. people of Australia. Some of them have not hesitated to refer to the fact that the line will run near the Treasurer’s electorate, and they have also mentioned another honorable member. References of that sort are very much to be regretted.
– It is only a coincidence.
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) says that “ it is only a coincidence.” Those who have the privilege ‘of knowing him appreciate the spirit in which that remark is made. Probably no one in the House knows, better than he that there is not the slightest justification for the suggestion that he does not hesitate to make. He knows perfectly well that the building of this line was urged long before this Government came into office, or before the Treasurer was a member of any government. The question has been before the people of Australia for a long time, and yet the honorable member does not hesitate to insinuate that there is an improper motive behind the action of the Government. I suppose that the best way to meet such suggestions is to treat them with the contempt they deserve, but it is a great pity that honorable members feel compelled to indulge in them at every opportunity. The Government has brought this measure down, believing that it is essential to make a start with the unification of our railway gauges, and it wishes the people of Australia to understand that the reason for “its co-operation in the building of this line is that it regards it as a first step in the process of unifying the gauges.
– As it is necessary that a bridge should be built over the Clarence River, why is there no mention of it in the bill ?
– It is mentioned. It is not included in the work to be carried out, because its construction forms part of the work to be carried out by the New South Wales Government.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question (Mr. Latham’s amendment) - put. The House divided-
Ayes … … 27
Majority … 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 -
This act may be cited as the Grafton to South Brisbane” Railway Act 1924.
– I move -
That the word “ Grafton “ be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ Kyogle.”
From Grafton to Kyogle this is a regrading proposition. The New South Wales Government has given a vague promise to construct a bridge across the Clarence River. Regrading in all the states is carried out by the state authorities. Why, then, should the Commonwealth Government stand behind a State Government that desires to regrade a length of line? The expenditure will be incurred chiefly, not upon a new line from Kyogle to the Queensland border,’ but upon the regrading of a long length of line from Grafton to Kyogle. When that particular length of line is regraded, New South Wales will occupy the happy position that all its railways will be of the standard gauge, and there will be no fur-, ther regrading for it to do. It is a piece of unblushing effrontery for the wealthy residents of New South Wales to ask the Commonwealth to bear the expense of regrading this line. The agreement should contain a clause placing upon the New South Wales Government the obligation of regrading the line from Grafton to Kyogle and bringing it up to the standard of an interstate line. I submit the amendment with confidence, and I hope that it will have some support. New South Wales and Queensland will reap a very great advantage from the expenditure of this money. Although Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia are not to benefit, those states will have to contribute their share of the interest upon the money that is expended. If the new line is to be built from South Brisbane to the Queensland border, and from Kyogle to the New South Wales border the title of the bill should be altered.
– I hope that the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) will not press his amendment. This measure is the first step towards carrying out the unification scheme, and the royal commission recommended that this line be built as part of it.
– The chairman was a New South Wales man.
– The other two members of the commission came from overseas. The honorable member suggests that because the chairman was from New South Wales an improper recommendation was made. If the honorable member is determined to make charges of that nature he should at least have some evidence to support them. A similar procedure to that followed in the bill will be adopted in the case of railways in the other states that require to be brought up to the standard in order to become part of a unified system.
Question - That the word proposed to be left out stand part of the clause - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 26
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 -
The agreement is hereby approved, and shall be valid and effectual for all purposes.
– I move -
That, the following words be added to the clause : - “ subject to the Parliaments of New South Wales and Queensland passing acts of Parliament agreeing to an amendment of the said schedule providing that the said states shall (together with the states of Victoria,. South Australia, and Western Australia) bear their respective proportions on a population basis of four-fifths of the cost of the unification of the railway gauges of Australia, on the basis of the estimate of £21,600,000 made by the said Railway Commission.”
I am only asking that the Parliaments of New South Wales and Queensland shall make statutory provision for that which honorable members representing New South Wales and Queensland say the Governments of those states are prepared to do. An honorable member undertaking a business proposition would be prepared to sign his name to the obligation into which he had entered, and governments should do the same. The Government should accept the amendment, as it is only expressing what the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has said he is satisfied the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland are prepared to do. If that is the case there should be no abjection to embodying it in the bill. I have named the lower estimate of the cost of unification, so that it cannot be said by the representatives of the states concerned that an unduly high figure has been quoted.
– I trust the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) will not accept the amendment. It is so cleverly drafted that if one state refuses to enter into the arrangement suggested the whole scheme will still stand.
– I cannot accept the amendment, the basis of which is that the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland should pass legislation agreeing to undertake certain responsibilities without placing the slightest obligation upon the States of Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia. From the evidence we have had in the past we have no assurance that the states which are not at present subscribing to the scheme will in the future come into it. It may be that future action will be similar to that now being adopted, and that we shall have to’ proceed with modifications of the scheme in order to get something done. Having attended a number of conferences on this subject, I am able to say there would be no difficulty in making an arrangement such as that contemplated in the amendment.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has entirely misunderstood the purport of the amendment, which is to provide that the approval of the agreement shall be subject to the Parliaments of New South Wales and Queensland passing legislation agreeing to share in the expenditure involved in extensions made in the future. The amendment does not compel Victoria, South Australia, or Western Australia to do anything. It does not involve any action by the three states mentioned, and an acceptance of. the amendment would not mean delaying the work in New South Wales and Queensland.
. -As pointed out by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), the amendment refers only to the two states interested in the initial stages of the work of unification. Extensions of the scheme may not be undertaken for many years, and, if the amendment is not carried, there will be nothing to bind New South Wales and Queensland to contribute their quota on a population basis when the unification scheme is extended. The whole scheme may not be completed for 25 or 30 years, and there may be many changes of government in that time. What is there to bind the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland, which are benefiting by the initial stages of construction? It is not a fair or business-like proposition. If New South Wales and Queensland are to benefit, why should they not be prepared to enter into a binding arrangement to subscribe their quota when further extensions are undertaken?
.The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has informed honorable members that Queensland . and New South Wales will fulfil their obligations in the future. We are pledging the Commonwealth to the expenditure of £1,900^00 in the construction of the proposed railway, but I am hoping that the other states will assist later. Possibly the amendment of the honorable member for Kooyong does not express what is actually intended. When full effect is given to the scheme recommended by the royal commission, there should be no doubt as to the responsibilities of Queensland and New South Wales. That position can only be created by legislation passed by their parliaments. I have no desire to delay the measure, but I think that at this stage the Prime Minister should adjourn the House. We should have something of a statutory nature, which would be binding on these states, so that when this and other works are being proceeded with, there shall be no doubt as to the attitude their governments will adopt. As a business man, the Prime Minister would not accept an agreement merely because of his faith in individuals. Governments change, as do the desires of the people. The present South Australian Ministry might adopt an entirely different attitude from that of the late government of that state.
– What is to prevent an act of parliament being revoked if a government changes its mind.
– That is a different matter altogether. It would be a monstrous act for a parliament to repudiate an agreement which it had entered into.
– If the parliaments are as bad as the honorable member has suggested, they would do even that.
– I have not said that they are bad, but there is no obligation on the part of the governments of New South Wales or Queensland to spend one penny on unification after this railway is completed. We should look at this from a business point of view. If, by statute, it was agreed that certain things would be done, we should have finality.
– This amendment cannot be embodied in the measure. The only way in which the desired position can be reached is by all the states subscribing to the scheme which was recommended by the commission for the conversion of the gauges at a cost of £21,600,000, and each state undertaking to bear its proportion of four-fifths of that amount. Until that is done- we shall achieve nothing. This railway is proposed as a first step towards the unification of the gauges. If in five years’ time the states are still recalcitrant, wc shall then probably have to make special arrangements. It is impossible to deal with this agreement as if all the states had accepted the £21,600,000 proposal, and were prepared to carry it out.
– The Prime Minister said that after five years the states might still be in a recalcitrant mood. I know of nothing that will have that effect more than this proposal. The effect of the amendment of the honorable member for Kooyong will be as the pouring of oil on troubled waters, and it should be accepted. If some modification is not made, the states will take up an’ attitude from which they will refuse to be shifted, and we shall never obtain a uniform gauge. It .rests with the parliaments of Queensland and New South Wales to decide what they shall do.
– They can manage their own business.
– I wish it had been left to them. I submitted a proposal which would have enabled New South Wales to do something herself. Tt seems to me that, in the opinion of the Prime Minister, every proposition brought forward by “this Government must be passed exactly as introduced, even to the dotting of an “i” and the crossing of a “ t “.
– That is absurd.
– I cannot take any notice of the opinion of the honorablemember, who is prepared to follow the Prime Minister in his every move.
– That is not a fact.
– The honorable member meekly follows the Prime Minister in regard to every matter dealt with in this chamber. I think that the proposition of the honorable, member for Kooyong is so reasonable that it should be accepted by every reasonable man.
– It involves the alteration of an agreement which has been signed, sealed, and delivered !
– If this amendment is not accepted, there will be a regular campaign throughout the states, the effect of which will be to widen . the breach and still further postpone the day - if it ever arrives - when there will be a uniform railway gauge throughout Australia. The amendment will help to smooth out the existing difficulties, without in any way hurting New South Wales or Queensland. Now is the time for the soothing oil to be poured in, so that there may be a better understanding between the states; but if the Prime Minister is determined to be obstinate, harmony will not prevail.
.I think that the amendment of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) might be accepted, for the reason that it must be recognized that this bill grants to New South Wales and Queensland something that the other states hold only in anticipation. It would be an assurance to the other states that New South Wales and Queensland, although they are now to receive the benefit of the first part of the unification scheme, will honorably stand by their compact when the time comes for similar works to be conducted in the other states. I believe in unification and in a fair deal being given to all the states. Those states that are now to benefit should give an undertaking that they will contribute their share to the completion of the unification scheme. Mr. Theodore, the Premier of Queensland, in presenting the agreement to the Parliament of that state, intimated that it would have to meet its share of extensions of the unification scheme in the other states. I do not think it would be difficult to obtain an undertaking from Queensland and New South Wales which would be satisfactory to Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia.
.The object of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Kooyong might be met in another way. The Prime Minister has said that a conference will shortly be convened, and I suggest that the representatives attending that assembly should agree to bind the states to the unification scheme. It is most offensive to the people of Queensland and New South Wales to ask them to have their obligations prescribed by Act of Parliament, while Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia, absolutely refuse to acknowledge responsibility in this matter. When those three states come into line it will be time enough to ask the other two states to give an undertaking in regard to their obligations.
– I cannot understand the reluctance of the Government and of some honorable members to agree to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). The evidence of this reluctance seems to me to make it all the more necessary to have some definite arrangement respecting the unification scheme. Honorable members have not hesitated to say that New South Wales and Queensland are prepared to contribute their proper share towards the scheme. If that is so, why not have the undertaking in black and white, so that it cannot be questioned in the future? The agreement provides that until certain conditions have been fulfilled the other states cannot participate in the scheme. Another condition is also necessary, namely, that before the railway from Kyogle to Brisbane is constructed, New South Wales and Queensland should undertake to contribute their share towards the extension of the scheme in the other states.
.The amendment is merely a camouflage to cloud the issue before the committee. This is the first time in the history of federation that the promises made by the States of New South Wales and Queensland have been doubted. Those states have honoured their compacts with the Commonwealth equally with the other states.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) has described the amendment submitted by me as a camouflage. I regard that as an offensive remark, and I ask that it ‘be withdrawn.
– I know that the honorable member for Parkes will withdraw the remark to which objection has been taken.
– I withdraw it. The honorable member for Kooyong views this proposal as heviewed the Canberra proposition, that is, from the stand-point of a great number of Victorians who imagine that if they climb the Melbourne postoffice tower they will see the whole of Australia.
– I move -
That the question be now put.
A division having been called for, and the bells rung,
– I ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
– The representatives of New South Wales and Queensland in this Parliament have given sufficient guarantee that those states are prepared to help the other states in every possible way. If a bill providing for the unification of guages . were introduced into this House tomorrow, honorable members representing Victoria would vote against it, although the New South Wales and Queensland representatives would support it. Honorable members from South Australia have stated to-day that they will refuse to vote for any Commonwealth railway until the north-south line is constructed. The states of New South Wales and Queensland will always honour their obligations, and are prepared at all times to assist the smaller states financially. The Hansard report of the last Premiers’ Conference held in this chamber shows conclusively that New South Wales and Queensland are committed to the unification scheme, and there, is no doubt that they will honour their compact with the other states. Victoria is to-day being helped by New South Wales to extend railways into her territory. If the proposed third railwas laid from Albury into Victoria for a distance of 30 miles, to the nearest shunting yards at Barnawartha, it. would prove a decided success. If the whole scheme of unification were now to be commenced it would receive the support of the New South Wales Government Ten years ago the standardization of gauges was estimated to cost £3,000,000; later the figure rose to £7,000,000, now it has reached £21,000,000, and if the work is deferred much longer the cost will be £50,000,000. I hope the committee will take a reasonable view of this scheme ; but most of the honorable members representing South Australia and Victoria are doing everything in their power to prevent effect being given to it.
– This is a question of ordinary business. There is no agreement amongst the states in regard to the practical part of the scheme, viz., the carrying out of the unification of gauges. I admit that the proposal before the committee is not a bad commencement, but honorable members owe a responsibility to all the states and the people of the Commonwealth, and have no right to pass the bill without ensuring by a solemn agreement that the states which will derive the first benefits to be derived from the unification policy will accept their share of the liability for the scheme recommended by the royal commission. Why . should they not agree to do that?
– Has such an agreement ever been asked for previously?
– Of course it has. I ask the Prime Minister to deny the correctness of the contention of the honorable member for Kooyong that New South Wales and Queensland might comply with their portion of this agreement, and be free of any legal obligation to make their pro rata contribution to the cost of the completed scheme.
– The representatives of those states will give the necessary assurance now.
– All that the amendment asks is that those states shall enter into such a binding agreement, and if that is not done the whole scheme of unification will be jeopardized.
– This agreement has been approved by the Queensland Parliament, and the amendment is, in effect, a proposal to remit the question back to that Parliament.
.- The honorable member for Parkes spoke of a compact. Can the honorable member produce any evidence of it in black and white ? The honorable member knows that there is no such agreement. Can South Australian representatives be blamed for demanding that these conditions be stated in black and white, knowing as they do that the Commonwealth has repeatedly consulted legal authorities with a view to evading the agreement made with South Australia in regard to the construction of the north-south line? Having that knowledge, we ask that nothing in connexion with the unification of gauges be left to chance. If New South Wales and Queensland are to have the first plums of the scheme, they should give an undertaking that they will assist the other states to get their share in turn. I cannot understand why the Prime Minister will not accept the amendment.
.- The statement of the honorable member for Richmond, if allowed to pass unchallenged, may leave the impression that what is now being sought by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) has been already approved by the Queensland Parliament.
– I did not say that. I said that the agreement has been ratified by the Queensland Parliament.
– What has. that to do with the amendment before the committee ? It is absurd to argue that, because Queensland has not already given an undertaking, we should not ask for one. I hope that the Prime Minister will either accept the amendment or postpone further consideration of the bill. The representatives of Queensland and New South Wales are taking advantage of their superiority in numbers in order to get the bill passed. If they are as strong in their sense of honour and fair dealing as they profess to be, and believe that the undertaking which we are seeking will be granted, why do they refuse to accept an amendment to have the undertaking stated in black and white ? We are not questioning the personal honour of those representatives, but it is our duty to protect the interests of the people in our states against possible happenings in the future. The honorable members who give us their personal assurances to-night may not be in this Parliament five years hence, and their successors may say that the circumstances have altered, and they will not be bound by assurances or promises given in earlier years. The statements made by the honorable member for Parkes and others are mere expressions of a pious hope. The fact, as stated by the. honorable member for Boothby, that such an outcry is being made about this matter is ample warrant for the request. The work cannot be undertaken at once. The Government must make the necessary arrangements to raise the money. Surely there is ample time within which to consult the Parliaments of the states concerned and get their consent to the agreement. I have no wish to ‘ ‘ stone-wall “ the measure, but we must take this opportunity to impress on the Government, and on those members who are supporting the bill, to be careful how they use their strength in this Parliament. There has been nothing said to suggest that “Western Australia is unwilling to take its part in the general unification scheme.It has been stated that this proposal is a commencement. It may be intended as such, but in reality it is not. If on this point we could get an assurance that one could accept we should withdraw our opposition to the proposal.
– Does the honorable member wish the Commonwealth to carry out the work from Kalgoorlie to Perth?
– The honorable member’s interjection has no point. I have already expressed my views on that subject, and I think the honorable member himself will be one of the first to admit that what I said was perfectly fair and reasonable, so it is not fair to imply that I meant anything else. Many people behind us in our states are well aware that we are fighting here for something which they have a right to demand, and I warn the Government that, if this course be persisted in, it will have a disintegrating effect upon the Commonwealth.
Question - That the words proposed to be added be so added (Mr. Latham’s amendment) - put. The committee divided.’
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 to 7 agreed to.
Clause . 8 (Regulations) .
– I am particularly concerned at the regrettable omission from the bill or the agreement of any provision for preference to returned soldiers. I should like the Prime Minister to give me an assurance that preference will be given to returned soldiers in employment on this work. I know that it is the considered policy of this Government, and of the Nationalist Government of New South Wales, to grant preference to returned soldiers. Unfortunately, it is not so in the State of Queensland. Of the sum of £3,500,000, which will be the cost of the line, the Commonwealth Government will contribute £1,963,000; Queensland, £410,000; and New South Wales, £1,127,077. The work will be carried out under the control and supervision of a railway council consisting of the Railways Commissioners of the Commonwealth, New South Wales, and Queensland. Sub-clause 10 of clause 4 of the agreement sets out the powers of the council. It is to -
have the entire control of -
In very close proximity to the area in Queensland through which the line is to be built - so I am advised by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia - there are more than 1,000 returned soldiers unemployed. I am sure it can be safely assumed that a considerably larger number of returned soldiers in New South Wales are also unemployed. When those men answered their country’s call in her hour of need they were assured that when their work was accomplished oversea they would be the first care of a grateful country of unbounded resources. They were told that neither they nor their dependants should lack anything. Many of the soldiers were young men from 18 to 21 years of age, and gave the prime of their lives in their country’s defence. For the remainder of their lives they are now compelled to be unskilled workmen, and subjected to more or less temporary employment. In the construction of this proposed railway, I see two or three years’ work for these returned soldiers, and I want to make certain that this is assured to them. The Commonwealth Government is making a grant to the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, and otherwise doing all it can to help to secure employment for the unemployed returned soldiers throughout Australia. I want preference for returned soldiers on this work. The men should be engaged, subject to the approval of the railway council, through the employment section of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia. I know the desire of the Government to have the bill passed without amendment. I do not want to imperil the passage of this measure by moving an amendment to secure this object.I ask the Prime Minister to give me his assurance that the Government’s policy of preference to returned soldiers will be carried out in this national work. The second point I wish to mention is the Beaudeaert Shire Council tramway. That tramway runs through the heart of the territory through which this railway will pass. It is a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge tramway, and, including sidings, there is a total length of 39. miles 29 chains of line. In the centre of the area is the tramway junction Tarbooba, which is the only stopping-place on the line from the Queensland border to South Brisbane. The Beaudesert Shire Council is naturally concerned about its position, now that the whole of the area, served by its tramway is to be traversed by the Kyogle to South Brisbane line. I ask the Prime Minister to let me know the Government’s intention regarding that tram-line.
– The agreement contemplates that the work of constructing this railway will be controlled by the railway council, composed of representatives, of the Commonwealth Government and each of the two states concerned. The policy of the Commonwealth Government and the State of New South Wales is to give preference to returned soldiers in all works, and I think the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) can rest assured that that policy will be carried out, as it will be the policy of a majority of the representatives on the railway council. There is nothing in the agreement to provide for compensation to be paid to any tramway or railway that may be affected by the building of the line. The honorable member will agree that that is certainly not an obligation of the Commonwealth Government. If the circumstances are as he suggests, it is a matter for the Queensland Government to take what action it may deem necessary to compensate the shire council.
Clause agreed to.
Schedule agreed to. “Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported, without amendment; report adopted.
Bill, by leave, read a third time.
House adjourned at 2.45 a.m. (Thursday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 October 1924, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1924/19241001_reps_9_109/>.