4th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President took, the chair at 2.30- p.m., and read prayers. ‘
Senator PEARCE laid upon the table, the following papers : -
Meteorology Act 1906 - Regulations relating to, the sale of Meteorological Publications.- Statutory Rules 1911, No. 193.
Public Service Act 1902 - Documents in connexion with the promotion of Mr. R. H. Allars to the position of Clerk-in-Charge, Class 3, Electoral Branch, Department of Home Affairs, Queensland.
– I desire to ask the Minister of Defence, without notice, whether it is a fact that the Defence Department is bringing to Australia from England a number of officers to serve in our Army; and, if so, whether those officers will stand in the way of the promotion of Australian officers?
– The statement is not a fact.
– Can the VicePresident of the Executive Council now furnish me with the information I asked for yesterday concerning the survey of the country between Pine Creek and the Katherine River ?
– The instructions which were forwarded after the passing of the Works Estimates recently were general. The papers and plans connected with the flying survey made some years ago have been sent for the use pf the officer who is to make the survey. The Acting Administrator has been informed that it is desired that all matters necessary for the information of Parliament in considering any proposal to extend the railway to the Katherine River shall be available at the earliest possible date.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister of External Affairs, without notice, whether the Department will be willing to publish a map on a large scale - which, I think, is in use in the Meteorological Bureau - showing the rainfall of the Northern Territory, the average days of rainfall, and so forth. The map to which I refer is a very interesting and useful one?
– I will make inquiries from the Minister of External Affairs, and if the wishes of the honorable senator can be complied with, I will certainly do all I can in the matter.
– I wish to ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council, without notice, whether the Government will obtain from the South Australian Government a map. showing thewhole of the west coast of that State, upon which are marked wells, water-holes, &c. The map has been published by the State Government, and gives a good deal of information with regard to the water that may be obtained along a route near to the coast?
– I will endeavour to obtain the map referred to.
– I believe that correspondence has taken place, as mentioned in the local press, between the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Government, with reference to certain Russians from Manchuria being allowed to land in Queensland. Will the Minister representing the Minister of External Affairs look into the matter, and, if possible, table the correspondence referred to?
– I will communicate with the Minister of External Affairs, and if it is considered desirable to comply with the honorable senator’s wish, the correspondence will be tabled.
asked the Minister lepresenting the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
If it is the intention of the Government to give early consideration to the installation of a wireless telegraph station at Hobart, or other suitable site in Southern Tasmania.
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are -
A scheme of wireless telegraphyfor the Commonwealth, including the sites for stations, is now under consideration, and the PostmasterGeneral hopes to be able to make a definite statement on the subject in about ten days’ time.
asked the Minister re presenting the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– Estimates of revenue and expenditure are being prepared, and will be available next Wednesday.
asked the Vice-
President of the Executive Council, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are -
asked the Min ister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Under the circumstances, does the Government propose to ask the Independent Cable Service, which is subsidized by the Commonwealth -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are -
– Arising out of the Minister’s answer, I should like to ask him to give a distinct reply to my first question. I do not think that the departmental answer touches the point. I asked whether it is a fact that press rates from 1st January next will be reduced from9d. to 4½d. per word.
– I think the answer is clear. It is that a proposal has been put forward, and concurred in by the Commonwealth Government, for a reduction from9d. to 4½d. on press cable messages from the United Kingdom, subject to a delay of twelve hours.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 22nd November, vide page 3003) :
After section two hundred and eight of the principal Act the following section is inserted : - “ 208A. Prosecutions for offences against this Act or the regulations may, in the absence of any express provision to the contrary, be commenced at any time within three years after the commission of the offence.”
– It must be evident to honorable senators that the time within which prosecutions for offences under this measure must be commenced is either considerably too short or considerably too long. The Minister may be aware of the fact that lapse of time is no bar to a prosecution for an indictable offence. Speaking generally, unless there is some express provision to the contrary effect in the measure itself, the offences provided for are indictable. But I draw attention to another aspect of the case. The clause says that a prosecution may be commenced at any time within three years after the commission of the offence. But I ask the Committee to note how trifling in many respects the offences are. Some of them merely affect portions of the administrative machinery. Instances have been mentioned during the debate. Yet the Government propose to extend the time within which prosecutions may be commenced to three years. I admit that some grievous offences against society may be committed in connexion with the electoral law. Yet the time for commencing prosecutions in such serious cases may be the same as that prescribed for an infringement of a pe”tty regulation. It may be said to be almost an invariable rule in legislation to make the time not longer than six months. I believe that is the case in regard to larceny and similar offences. After six months no prosecution can be commenced. We must take it that the Government have had some reason for extending the time, but I should like to know what that reason is. Considering the variety of offences that may be committed, and how widely they differ in character, I am justified in saying that the time is either too long or too short. I ask the Minister to consent to recast this provision, or else to give some reasons for it.
– The honorable senator says that the time limit proposed is either too short or too long, and he asserts that the Government must have some motive for the insertion of such a provision. Certainly they have. It is inserted because we are making a radical alteration in the manner of compiling the rolls, and are giving many additional facilities to voters to exercise their votes. No one will contend that a person who has been guilty of dishonesty or fraudulent practices should escape punishment.
Senator- St. Ledger. - This will apply to breaches of the regulations as well as of the Act.
– For the reason that absent voting and other matters are left by the Bill to regulations. Australia is a place of considerable distances, and it may take some time for the votes to reach the proper authorities. There may, therefore, be some lapse of time before the authorities are cognisant of the fact that a breach of the law has been committed.
– Twelve months should suffice.
– There is not Lie slightest danger in permitting prosecutions within three years from the committal of the offence in the case of persons who have been guilty of dishonesty or fraudulent practices. This will not in any way affect the candidates, and it will safeguard the provisions of the Bill, particularly those to give effect to absent voting. For these reasons, I hope that the Committee will not ask for any alteration of the period of three years, which has been referred to. A man may be enrolled to-day under our card system, and an election may not take place for nearly three years. It might thus be impossible to find out that a fraud had been committed in connexion with the enrolment until an election was held.
– The Minister can scarcely expect us to regard his statement as an explanation. In the clause which we have just passed we have provided for a penalty of £20 for the making of a false statement to an officer. The statement may be made quite inadvertently or negligently, and yet. the person making it will be liable to a prosecution at any time within three years of the date of the committal of the offence. The same period is applied indifferently to the gravest and most trivial offences, to bribery and corruption as well as to the making of an untrue statement to an officer. I repeat what I have already said to the effect that this Bill with all the offences created by it and its cast-iron provisions constitutes a veritable electoral Draconian code. If a newspaper proprietor inserts electoral matter for which he is to be paid, and some compositor, whether wilfully or only negligently, fails to head it with the proper type, the proprietor of the newspaper is made liable under this Bill to the enormous penalty of .£500. This would appear to be regarded by the Government as the gravest electoral offence that can be committed under this Act. It is regarded as a graver offence than bribery and corruption which strike at the foundation of the purity of our political representation. In the case of almost every simple offence dealt with by the lower courts of the States, if a prosecution is not instituted within six months none will lie. Yet the Government propose in this Bill that the possibility >f a prosecution shall be held over a man’s head for three years if he has negligently made an untrue statement. I hope the Committee will not discredit - I had almost said disgrace - itself by permitting such an unjust, stupid and tyrannical clause to pass. In order to test the feeling of honorable senators on the matter, I move -
That the words “ three yeaTs” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof “ six months.”
– The Government propose three years as the limit of time within which prosecutions under this Act may be instituted. It is curious to note that the period is the same as the term of a Parliament. Assuming that our party will return at the next elections we should, under this Bill, be given three years in which to search out all possible opportunities to institute prosecutions against people in connexion with the elections.
– And the combines will find the party to which the honorable senator belongs any money that may be required.
– The farmers of South Australia will not again find my honorable friend any money with which to fight their case in view of the way in which he has gone back upon them.
– They never did spend money upon me.
– Ever since the honorable senator’s return to this Parliament, they have been in mourning. It is somewhat curious that the Government should have inserted in this Bill a clause providing that, in the absence of an express provision to the contrary, a prosecution for an offence under the Act may be commenced at any time within three years after the commission of that offence. In the first place, I object to the clause, because I think that the period prescribed is too long. In some circumstances, all that the Department will need to do is to say that a man is guilty of an electoral offence, and prima facie, he will be adjudged guilty, Unless he can establish his innocence. I should like the Honorary Minister to explain why this clause has been inserted, and why the existing law does not meet all requirements. Why should we be permitted - after a Parliament has been dissolved, and irrespective of how an election may have resulted - to chase a man all over the country to prosecute him?
– In my opinion, six months is a sufficiently long period to prescribe for the launching of a prosecution for an electoral offence.
– I think so, too. But it seems hopeless to appeal to the Minister. He appears to be almost glued to his seat.
– Does the honorable senator expect him to resemble a jackinthebox ?
– I object to him speaking only when his officers allow him to do so.
– The honorable senator had better abandon that line of attack ; otherwise I will give him a Roland for his Oliver.
– I ask the Minister why we should extend the period during which a man who may have committed a small electoral offence, shall be open to prosecution ? I suggest that the .period of three years contained in the Bill should be reduced to six months. Surely the accused should be afforded an opportunity of defending himself.
– I listened carefully to the major portion of the statement made by the Honorary Minister, and I submit that he assigned no substantial reason for the change which is proposed in the law. I would remind him that for some years a Commonwealth Electoral Act has been operative throughout Australia. During all that period the officials have been gaining experience, and yet this clause has hitherto been absent from our electoral laws. Within a period of ten years the officials ought to have gained sufficient experience to have enabled them to assign definite reasons for the amendment which is now proposed. The Minister might reasonably have supplied us with the specific instances which have prompted the Department to adopt the course that has been taken. The honorable gentleman has said that the clause is a desirable one because some of the electoral offences are of a very serious character. But I would point out that it not only lengthens the period during which a charge against a man may be launched, but it also groups together indictable offences against the Act and offences which are of a trivial character. In what they have done the Government have not met the requirements of every class of case. There ought not to be a threeyears’ limit in either case. I venture to say that if a prosecution were instituted for some of these offences no magistrate would deal with them. I would suggest to the Minister that he should consent to the elimination of serious offences from the Bill, and that, in regard to ordinary offences, a six months’ limit should apply. In my judgment, we might very well leave things as they stand to-day. That result will be secured if we agree to delete the clause. The Department will then be able to launch a prosecution at any time for a serious offence, but for trivial offences against the regulations the prosecution must be initiated within six months of the commission of the offence. It seems to me ridiculous to say that three years after an offence has been committed, a prosecution may be launched carrying with it the imp’osition of a paltry fine. It is proposed that indictable offences against the law and minor offences against the regulations shall be brought under this arbitrary provision. My first suggestion is that the Minister should agree to the elimination of the clause. But if he will not consent to adopt that course, he ought at least to agree to separate the offences against the Act which are serious, from those against the regulations which are trivial.
– - I am not disposed to accept any amendment of proposed new section 208. Senator Millen has asked me to point to some specific cases that justify the proposed extension of the period during which a prosecution for an electoral offence may be launched. He has declared that he would place no time limit upon prosecutions for indictable offences, but that in regard to other offences he would impose a limit. We believe that a period of three years will meet the case of all offences if they ais grouped together I would further point out that the Bill does not say that a prosecution “ shall “ be initiated, but that it “may” be initiated. I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition desires that any person who has violated the provisions ‘ of the Act should escape punishment. If the provision is carried it will enable the Government, if it so wills, to prosecute within three years persons who have committed either indictable or minor offences against the Act. The Committee ought not to forget that, although no similar provision is contained in the Act, this Bill makes some radical alterations. It grants facilities to persons to exercise their votes in a manner in which they were not able to do before. In order to prevent the possibility of persons who have been guilty of fraudulent practices under the Act from escaping the punishment which they merit, we desire to have the opportunity of initiating prosecutions against them at any time within three years. A card may be filled in and duly witnessed. Three years hence an election may take place, and then it may be proved that a fraud has been committed. Will any one say that because a period of three years has elapsed no punishment should be inflicted ? The period is fixed at three years because a general election is usually held every three years.
.- The Minister has stated that as a general election usually takes place every three years, it will be after an election that an offence against the Act may be discovered ; but I would point out to him that the discovery may not take place until a week or a month after the expiration of three years from the date of the offence. I do not desire to screen any person who commits an offence against the Act, but I submit that it is not right or proper to hold a man liable for three years to a prosecution for offending against a regulation which may have been abolished or altered in the meantime. Suppose, for instance, that an honorable senator is living a couple of “hundred miles from a large town at the date of an alleged offence. If he is prosecuted at the time, he will be able to show that he should not be punished. But during a period of three years, he may leave South Australia, and go to Queensland, or vice versa. If a charge is brought against him then, how can he be expected to defend himself? When he returns to the district where the offence is alleged to have taken place, he may find that the persons on whose evidence he expected to rely are located in some other part of Australia. In the case of a serious offence, I would not object to a period of three years, or longer; but in the case of offences against the regulations, the prosecutions ought to be launched within six months, because within that period a man would very likely be able to find his witnesses. In my opinion, the Government ought to be compelled to proceed with the prosecution within six, or, at the outside, twelve months for a breach of the regulations. The commission of an indictable offence may not be discovered until a week after the expiration of three years. I do not think that if an action were taken against a man for committing a breach “of an ordinary regulation the Government would find a Bench which would punish him very severely. The only difficulty I see in such a case is that the accused person may not be able to procure his witnesses. Take the case of a man who has come from Tasmania to Charters Towers, or Croydon, or Gympie. At the general election, he does something which is said to be wrong, and afterwards he leaves the district for Tasmania. If, after the expiration of eighteen months, he is arrested in Tasmania, how is he to get his witnesses to prove that he did not commit the offence? It is quite likely that, in the meantime, they may have left the district, where it took place. The liability to be prosecuted for committing a breach of the regulation should not be allowed to hang over a man for more than twelve months. If it is going to take three years to find out whether a man is legally or illegally on the roll, I have not much faith in the card system. I did think at first that it would do a certain amount of good, and I still think that it may operate beneficially, but if the system is going to be workable at all, the Department will have to find out long before the expiration of three years whether men are legally or illegally on the roll. It will not do to wait until after a general election has been held to ascertain that. The Minister has taken credit to the Commonwealth for the great facilities which they give under the new system to electors to record their votes, but he does not say a word about the great facilities which they have taken away. The system which is being repealed was in more demand than the system which is being introduced is likely to be. It is like offering a stone to persons when they ask for bread. The Government have not yet proved that there has been any great demand for the changes which they have introduced in this measure, but I think it has been fairly proved that what they take away was badly wanted-. I believe that if a short period were substituted for the term of three years in this Bill, it would meet the case. I certainly hope the Government will see their way not to allow the possibility of being prosecuted for a trivial crime to hang over a man for three years. If a man were to get information that he is likely to be proceeded against for a breach of the regulations, his life would be a misery for that term. But, thank God, there are benches of magistrates, both honorary and paid, all over the country, who, I believe, would, if the Government attempted to put this provision in force, after the lapse of a long period, inflict a slight fine, if they did not dismiss the case with costs. I hope that, in the case of indictable offences, the Government will leave the offenders liable to prosecution within a period of three years, or more. We do not even yet know the regulations for a breach of which a man may be prosecuted under this provision, and perhaps when we do see them we shall try to repeal them. I hope that wiser counsels will prevail, and that the Government will accept an amendment.
Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON (South Australia) [3.28]. - I rise to offer a suggestion to Ministers. This clause comes within the category of those provisions which are known as limitations - that is, provisions which are inserted in Acts imposing penalties, and so on, to limit the period within which prosecutions may be instituted’ for the offences. Take, for instance, the class of offences which is technically described as offences punishable on summary conviction. There has never been in any legislation with which I am acquainted a limitation of more than .six months. Of course, with regard to serious offences like felonies, and so on - from capital crimes downwards - there is no limitation at all. Where a murder or a felony has been committed, and the man has not been discovered for some time, and there is no material on which to found a prosecution, there is no limitation, and very properly so. Offences of that kind strike at the very foundations of society, and it is proper, with a view to investigation taking place in Courts of justice, that there should be no limitation. But in regard to more or less trivial offences, I know of no instance in which prosecution is permitted after a period of six months, unless in very special circumstances warranting special legislation. The distinction which I have pointed out is embodied in the principal Act Of course, as the Minister has pointed out, we must all admit that there ought to be a fairly rigid and severe application of the penal provisions of this Bill to secure purity of elections. But the line of demarcation is clearly drawn in sections 190 and 191 of the principal Act, showing that the Legislature had clearly in mind the difference between offences punishable summarily and offences of an indictable character.
– We are radically altering the principal Act.
– We are not radically altering the fundamental principle upon which prosecutions for offences are based, and in respect of which they are to be punished. There are offences against the electoral law of a very grave character, in respect of which no less a limitation than three years would be desirable. But if honorable senators look at the table of electoral offences in section 182, they will find some as to which I really do not think it ought to be open to persons who might be convicted to pounce down on some of their opponents on the eve of a general election on a charge of having done certain things in connexion with the previous election. One of these offences is “ Wagering on the result of any election - Penalty, not exceeding fifty pounds.” A man bets a new hat on the result of an election. Under this Bill he will be liable, on the eve of the polling in connexion with the next election, three years after, to be prosecuted by somebody in respect of that offence. Is such a thing really contemplated ?
– That is not thinkable.
– But it is possible under this Bill. I do not think my honorable friend, the Minister, can be too severe in his animadversions against offences which undermine the purity of electoral administration. But can betting on the result of an election be said to come within that category? Many things done at election times are excusable ; some are quite inexcusable. I agree with- my honorable friend that it is not thinkable that a man should be prosecuted three years afterwards for having bet a new hat on an election. But it may be done.
– Hundreds of hats are lost and won over elections, and such bets are offences against the law. But whoever heard of a prosecution?
– We all ought to be anxious to make this amendment of the law as successful as possible, and we cannot be too critical about a thing like this, especially when there is a clear principle applicable in all other legislation as to various classes of offences. Look at another case. “Distributing any advertisement, hand-bill, or pamphlet published, in contravention of section 180 - Penalty not exceeding ^50, or imprisonment not exceeding one month.” Why should that be treated as an indictable offence? It is difficult to regard it seriously. It cannot be intended that a charge of that kind should be hung up for three years, and then be liable to be shot at a man on the eve of another election. “Voting more than once at the same election ‘ ‘ is another offence. That is a highly improper thing, and ought to be penalized. But an offender ought not to be liable to be prosecuted three years after.
– Surely the honorable senator does not think that such charges would be purposely held over until the eve of a following election?
– Oh, no ; not for a moment.
– Not by the Department ; but an individual might hold a charge over.
– What the Minister says shows the vice of this proposal. He admits that it is “ not thinkable “ that a charge should be held over for three years. I suppose that, if the officials of the Electoral Office knew that a man had made a bet on the result of an election, they would not take proceedings against him. But everybody knows that great vehemence and heat are generated in connexion with elections. It is perfectly justifiable. The calmest of us are affected. Two men meet in the street. One says, “ Look here, I hear that you wagered a new hat over the election three years ago. I am going to show you up, because you are on the other side.” It may be partisanship ; it may be vindictiveness ; it may be playfulness of a kind. But we ought not to open the door to that kind of thing.
– Feelings are more likely to be bitter immediately after an election than three years later, when the bitterness will probably have been forgotten.
– But the bitterness may be revived by another election. If we pass this with our eyes open, no one can say that we were not warned about it. We have enough irritation at elections already, without affording fresh incitement to litigation. I would suggest that we should alter the clause to read - “ Prosecutions for offences against this Act or the regulations which are indictable offences shall be commenced within three years - and prosecutions for offences punishable on summary conviction within six months.”
Do not let us give an opportunity to disorderlyminded people to bring about litigation when there is no occasion for it. We might say that prosecutions for offences “within the meaning of section 190 “ may be commenced at any time within three years after the committal of the offences. We should then draw a distinction between the two classes of offences, and might make prosecutions for offences punishable on summary conviction commenceable within six months.
– - The amendment suggested by Senator Symon would vitiate the clause altogether. It has been purposely drafted to enable the Electoral
Office to follow up cases of fraud on the part of any elector in the Commonwealth up to a period of three years. All the offences contemplated are not indictable. They are not all provided for in the existing table of electoral offences, for the reason that in the principal Act no provision is made for the card system of enrolment, and no provision or regulation for the manner in which votes may be recorded by electors who may happen to be outside the divisions in which they are enrolled.
– Will the Minister mention any offences for fraud under this Act which are not indictable?
– Improperlyor falsely witnessing an application for enrolment is one. That is not provided for in the principal Act, because the system was not in operation when that Act was passed. It is proposed to have a different system of compilation, with different forms. It is mainly for the purpose of enabling the office to trace cases of fraud or illegal practice that we require the period of three years. I feel sure that honorable senators opposite are extremely anxious to make this Bill as workable as possible, and to prevent illegal practices. With a view to doing what the Government consider right in the interests of candidates, and the community generally, they wish to have the opportunity of prosecuting persons guilty of the practices I have mentioned within a period of not less than three years.
– I submitted my amendment very hastily, with a view to raising the question, and I have admitted that it is probably liable to as many objections as is the clause itself. I hope that Senator Symon will press his amendment in the form in which he has presented it to the Committee, as I do not think a better amendment could be devised to give effect to what I believe is the intention of every member of the Committee. In the circumstances I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON (South Australia) [3.47]. - I accept Senator Findley’s very fair expression of belief that honorable senators on both sides desire that every effort should be made to make the Bill thoroughly workable. The honorable senator might have added that we are all desirous of preventing, by every means possible, impropriety of conduct, fraud, and the graver offences against the electoral law. But we are here really considering only a question of a fair limitation of the period within which a prosecution may lie. The offences referred to ire clause 42 - signing a name as a witness on a blank electoral paper ; or on any electoral paper which has been wholly or partly filled up, unless it has been signed by the person intended to sign it; or on any electoral paper unless he has seen the person whose signature he purports to witness sign it - do not necessarily involve fraud. All these things may be done without any intention to commit an offence. It has frequently come under my observation that people are quite ready to witness a signature which they recognise, though they may not have seen it written. Why should a prosecution for such a matter be held over a man’s head for three years ?
– In the majority of cases a prosecution will be instituted as soon as it is known that an offence has been committed.
– If such minor offences as I have referred to are not discovered within six months or twelve months they should not be the subject of any prosecution. When a prosecution is unduly delayed it may be most difficult for a defendant to attend in Court, or to get his witnesses together, and frequent miscarriages of justice may result. I think that if the Department is unable to discover the commission of trivial offences, or offences punishable by summary conviction, within six months, they ought not to be raked up at all. I move -
That the word “ indictable “ be inserted before the word “ offences,” line 3.
If that amendment be carried I shall propose the addition to the proposed new section of the words - “and prosecutions for offences punishableon summary conviction may be instituted within six months.”
– I cannot accept the amendment in the form suggested. The Government prefer the provision as it stands in the Bill. We believe that the amendment would weaken it, and would not give the officers intrusted with the administration of the law the time considered necessary in order to trace offenders guilty of serious infringements of the Act.
– Could the honorable senator suggest any modification of the amendment ?
– No, I prefer the clause as it stands.
Question - That the word proposed to be inserted be inserted - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Amendment ( by Senator St. Ledger) proposed -
That the following words be added to the clause : - “ Except that for offences punishable on summary conviction prosecutions shall be commenced within six months.”
– I propose to accept the amendment.
Question - That the words proposed to be added be so added - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 44 agreed to.
Clause 45 (Amendment of schedule).
– I regret that I missed the opportunity just now to point out that there is a discrepancy - which I suggest that the Minister should set right - between clause 44 and section149 of the principal Act.
– The discrepancy has been observed.
Clause agreed to.
Postponed clause17 -
Section one hundred and thirty-nine of the Principal Act is repealed, and the following sections inserted in its stead : - “139. - (1.) An elector who has reason to believe that he will not on polling day be within any Commonwealth Electoral Division may, subject to the regulations, be permitted to vote at any time after the issue of the writ and before polling day, if he attends before any prescribed Commonwealth Electoral Registrar and makes a declaration in accordance with the prescribed form. “139A. (1) On polling day, an elector shall be entitled to vote at the polling place for which he is enrolled or at any prescribed polling place for the subdivision for which he is enrolled, or he shall be permitted to vote at any other polling place within the Commonwealth under and subject to the regulations relating to absent voting.”
– I would remind the Committee that when this clause was previously under review, the Honorary Minister promised to consider whether some provision could not be framed to meet the conscientious scruples of those electors who object to vote on Saturday. It seems to me that the proper place for such an amendment, as I had hoped he would agree to, is in a prior portion of the clause. Is it the intention of the Minister to propose an amendment dealing with the cases of those persons who, for religious reasons, object to vote on Saturday ?
– I did give the Committee an assurance that the Government would consider whether some provision could not be framed to meet the cases of persons who conscientiously object to vote on Saturday. We have given the matter every consideration, and we believe that we have gone as far as we possibly can to meet those objectors by extending the hour for closing the poll to 8. p.m. Further than that, we are not prepared to go.
– The explanation of the Minister means that the Government have not altered the position that they took up when this Bill was introduced. Upon a former occasion, the Honorary Minister did hold out some hope that he would be able to frame a proposal which would meet the views of those who entertain conscientious objections to voting on Saturday. His answer is that, having considered the suggestion, the Government decline to adopt it. I very much regret that decision, and I think that, on longer reflection, the Minister will see the inadvisability of the course which he is taking. It would be as easy to make provision in this clause for the class of people whom we are considering as it was to make provision for seamen to record their votes. . It is a curious thing that the Government have singled out seamen, and persons who are leaving our ports, and who, I repeat, may never return.
– Do you think that they may be drowned?
– They may be leaving Australia because they have had enough of it under Labour domination, and their last act here may be to cast a vote against the present Government. While the Government make this extraordinary provision, which is properly safeguarded, and to which I do not object, to enable seamen and others to vote before nomination day, because they will have an assurance from their leaders as to who the candidates will be-
– Why do you harp on seamen? Do you not know that passengers also take trips?
– I know that in the organization to which I refer there is a practice of selecting candidates very much longer ahead than is the case with any other political party. In New South Wales they are selecting the candidates for the next election for the Senate.
– There is nothing to prevent the Liberal party from doing the same thing.
– Exactly ; but the Minister knows that our party does not.
– Why not?
– Why should we alter our methods to suit the machinery of the Labour party? What is clear is that they have shaped their machinery to handicap their opponents. Here is a clear case where the Government absolutely scorn to extend consideration to those whose religious convictions prevent them from voting on Saturday, but enable other persons, who, they believe, are their friends, to vote before nomination day. Such an extraordinary provision is not to be found in any other Act.
– The Hebrews are not shut out from voting.
– They are. A very large number of these persons, on a summer day, when their Sabbath does not expire until shortly before 8 o’clock, will be unable to vote if they happen to live at any distance from a polling booth.
– The next election will not be held in the summer time.
– The honorable senator does not know when the next election will be held. There are half-a-dozen things which may precipitate an election, quite irrespective of what parties want in the Senate or in the other House. If the honorable senator is in .such a position that he can give a definite assurance as to when the next election will be held, that will not settle the question. He does not know when the election following that one will take place. So far as the Hebrews are concerned, we have an assurance from their clergymen that the mere keeping of the poll open till 8 o’clock will not meet their needs. If the Government are willing to allow seamen who are leaving Australia to vote before nomination day, why can they not enable the members of religious bodies to vote, not before nomination day, but a day or week before the poll in the presence of the Electoral Registrar, under the same precautions and regulations as are to be provided in the case of seamen? The Hebrews would vote with this difference, that they would be able to vote on properlyprepared ballot-papers, and would know the candidates who were offering themselves for election, and, therefore, would be able to make an intelligent choice. ‘The Minister spoke about the abuse of postal voting. If one-half of the abuse which he talked of had been practised it would be nothing to the abuse of which, this provision is capable. It will not be very long, I venture to predict, before it will be found that this is the clause under which abuse will creep in. It is little short of a public scandal that while the Government make provision for a body of men whose political sympathies are supposed to be with their party to vote before nomination day - it does not matter whether the seamen spell the names of the candidates correctly or whether they know the Christian names so long as they can write, in some way or other, the names which have been recommended to them before nomination day - they deny similar opportunities to men who, for the highest of all reasons, decline to participate in an election when it takes place on a Saturday. How long is it since a Government in Australia ventured to take upon itself the right to thrust aside the religious convictions of any section of the people? In this discussion Senator Findley has referred to the question of defence. He said that we have not allowed the scruples of certain persons to exempt them from their obligation under the Defence Act. But he must know, as every one can see at a glance, that there is a big difference between the question of defence, which involves the safety, and it may be the national life, of Australia, and a mere question of voting. Voting is not compulsory, because the Government recognise the difficulty of enacting that principle, and because there is a great doubt in the minds of a large number of persons that the in terests involved are not sufficiently great to justify that interference with individual liberty.
– Under this Bill we do not compel a man to vote, but under the Defence Act we can tell a man to serve his country.
– Under this Bill the Government compel a man to abstain from voting, and say that so long as he worships his God in a particular form, so long will they shut him out from the right to vote. What we ask is not any loose system under which Hebrews and others could commit any fraud. We only ask that the Government should extend to them, under closer conditions, in a shorter period, and under whatever supervision they like, the same right to cast their votes before a high official as they have extended to seamen. Is not the declaration of a member of the Hebrew faith as good as the declaration of a seaman or other person who is leaving Australia before nomination day.? The Government are prepared to take the declaration of men leaving Australia before polling day, the bulk of whom will be seamen, whose sympathies will be in - favour of the dominant party. But their declaration is no more entitled to respect, and no more free from taint, than a declaration made by any other body of citizens. Why do they withhold this right from a body of people who, because of their religious convictions, are unable to participate in electoral functions on a Saturday?
– They have plenty of time to vote on a Saturday.
– According to a petition which was signed by the head clergymen of the Hebrew faith, and presented’ to the Senate recently, they have not; and I submit that their clergy ought to know what they are talking about. Their position in this country is sufficient to cause their statement to be accepted absolutely. They say distinctly that the extension of the polling hour to 8 o’clock will not meet their requirements.
– The prayer of that petition was against Saturday being declared a polling day.
– Yes, and for that reason. I recognise that the Minister cannot accede to the prayer in that form; but he can meet their requirements in the wa.v I have suggested. I ask Senator W. Russell to tell me candidly whether the Labour party do not select their candidates considerably in advance of an election?
– Do not the Liberal party select their candidates after the issue of the writ, and sometimes before that event ?
– Invariably after the issue of the writ. One of the great difficulties of the Liberal party is that our organization has not been sufficiently developed to enable us to select candidates at a reasonable period in advance of an election. The Labour party, on the contrary, select their candidates in a reasonable, businesslike way ; that is, at a period sufficiently ahead of nomination day that it gives to electors who wish to support them an advantage over those who hold the views of their political opponents. If the Minister can see his way to adopt my suggestion in regard to affording an opportunity to Hebrews to vote, there will be no need to disclose the votes until polling day or afterwards. No one can pretend that there will be any difficulty in devising a scheme under which Hebrews can vote with absolute safety to the rest of the electors’, and with absolute secrecy so far as they are concerned. I propose to test the feeling of the Committee on the subject. If the amendment which I intend to move be adopted, it will be necessary to recast the whole of the first sub-clause. I will not detain the Committee by redrafting it now, but may state roughly that, as amended, the sub-clause would read as follows : -
An elector whose religious beliefs debar him from voting on Saturday shall be permitted to vote on the day before polling day if he attends before any prescribed electoral officer and makes a declaration in accordance with the prescribed form.
For the present, I move -
That after the word “ elector “ in sub-clause 1 of proposed new section139 the following words be inserted, “ whose religious beliefs debar him from voting on Saturday.”
– Iamglad that Senator Millen has submitted this amendment, and hope that the Government will accept it. The subject has already been dealt with at length.
– The Government announced last week what they intended to do about the matter.
– I understood that the clause was postponed to leave an opportunity for making an amendment to this effect.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be inserted - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … …12
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move -
That after the word “ Commonwealth “ in proposed new section139A the following words be inserted : -“ at which a polling booth is open.”
I have already explained that, unless these words are inserted, it might be claimed by an elector in connexion with a by-election that he was entitled to vote at any booth in the Commonwealth.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move -
That the following new sub-clause be inserted after sub-clause 2 in proposed new section 139a : - “ (2A.) Absent voters’ ballot-papers containing votes and enclosed in any prescribed envelope may, if so provided by the regulations, be placed in any ballot-box in use at the polling booth at which the votes were cast, but notwithstanding anything contained in this Act a prescribed envelope containing an absent voter’s ballot-paper shall (unless the regulations otherwise provide) only be opened andthe ballotpaper dealt with, as regards the scrutiny thereof and the counting of the votes thereon, by the Divisional Returning Officer for the division for which the voter claims to be enrolled.”
This amendment makes a slight departure from the principal Act, under which it is possible for an assistant returning officer to do what is here provided. We desire to limit the power to a divisional returning officer.
– Will this amendment preserve the secrecy of the ballot in regard to the individual voter?
– That is pretty well the sole object of the amendment.
– How is the name of “the voter to be known ?
– The ballot-papers will be in envelopes, which will be sealed. No one will see them except the elector and 4he divisional returning officer.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Debate resumed from 20th October (vide page 1681), on motion by Senator Pearce -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– Senator Millen moved the adjournment of the debate on the second reading of this Bill ; but as he has had a very hard night, and did more work during it than I did, I am glad to take his place in resuming the consideration of this measure. It is rather unfortunate to have to take up the discussion of so important a question as “.this after a continuous sitting of thirty-four hours. I shall probably not be able to conclude my remarks before the usual dinner adjournment; and if it is not intended that the Senate shall sit later, I shall have to ask leave at that hour to resume my speech at a later date: I do not believe that the importance of this question is fully realized by the general public, or that it was given the prominence which at deserved in another place. Apart from the question of linking up these distant parts of Australia, there is another question of equal importance looming ahead, and that is the unification of the railway gauges throughout the Commonwealth. That must take place some time or other, and the gauge decided upon for this line will, in all probability, t)e the gauge eventually fixed for Australia. Some of the States will delay unification of gauge, and Queensland may do so for a very long time; but we shall ultimately, throughout Australia, for economic, industrial, and military purposes, require to adopt a uniform railway gauge. In connexion with the development of the Northern Territory, I imagine that it will not be proposed to extend the present line any further on the existing 3-ft. 6-in. gauge.
We shall not be able to utilize such a line to any great advantage in the development of the Territory, and I assume that when it is proposed to complete the Northern Territory line, the extension will be made on the gauge which will be adopted for this transcontinental railway. The fact that the existing 3-ft. 6-in. line in the Northern Territory can be of very little service seems to justify the vote I gave against the taking over of the Northern Territory. This measure raises the question of the uniform gauge for Australia, and I propose to deal with that subject at some length. I hope we shall be permitted sufficient latitude in the debate to discuss the matter fully. At first glance, the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge may seem to be the best to adopt ; but we must remember that new railways in other countries similar to Australia are being constructed on wider gauges than 4 ft. 8£ in. In the circumstances, I say that “ we should not rush the consideration of this Bill. Whilst, no doubt, a number of honorable senators are very desirous to see it passed, the questions it involves are of such immense importance to the future of ‘-Australia that we should seek the best expert1 advice we can obtain, in order that we may not make mistakes, and- later on lament, as America is doing to-day, that we- did hot adopt a wider’ gauge than that proposed in this Bill. In this matter South Australia and Victoria are somewhat at a disadvantage, from the fact that the engineer appointed to superintend this line is a gentleman who has been connected all his life with railways on the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge, and has managed railways run on that gauge. He is . an English engineer, and we know that a man is influenced by his environment. It is difficult for him to recognise virtue in any system but that to which he has been accustomed. I believe that this gentleman is also very much interested in people being buyers of English stock, and this may unconsciously bias him, and account, to some extent, for his desire that this Parliament should approve of the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge for this railway.
– He recommends it because it is the standard gauge.
– That is merely a phrase, and I shall show directly that the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge is no more a standard gauge than others that might be mentioned. It would have been very much better if the Government had fortified themselves with the advice of modern experts familiar with the latest ideas in engineering, and with experience of both broad and narrow gauges. This is not a matter of favouring any State, nor is it a party matter. The only question to be considered is: Which gauge is the best for Australia, not for to-day or to-morrow, but for the years to come, when our railway construction will have been so extended that, if a wise choice of gauge is not made to-day, it will be found, as in other countries, almost impossible to alter the gauges then in use. I do not think that any one in this Parliament possesses sufficient technical knowledge to justify him in pronouncing on the question of the best gauge to adopt. The consideration of this matter has throughout been dominated by one man, Mr. Deane. This has been a one-man proposal from the beginning, and we have not had the advantage of hearing the opinions of outside experts on the matter. The proposal to adopt the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge is founded, practically, on the Conference of Railways Commissioners that met in Melbourne in 1897. That Conference recommended that the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge should be adopted as the standard gauge for Australia. The only rea.son given for the recommendation was that of cost, and the statement that it would cost a great deal less to convert existing lines to the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge than it would to convert them to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. We had a War Railway Council sitting, but they based their recommendation on what the Railways Commissioners had previously done. Later on we had State engineers meeting together, and they also based their recommendations on the action of the Railways Commissioners’ Conference. So that practically the basis of the recommendation of the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge is to be found in the Conference which was held in Melbourne in 1897. But we have in this matter to consider the States. All our attempts at securing a uniform railway gauge will be in vain unless we can induce the State Governments to fall into line. I believe that two of the States, Victoria and South- Australia, desire further evidence on this question to enable a wise decision to be arrived at as to the gauge best adapted to a country such as this. On my motion, submitted a little time ago, the correspondence which passed between the State and Commonwealth Governments was printed, but I am given to understand that a letter from Mr. Verran, the Premier of South Australia, is not included in the printed correspondence. The Minister of Defence will probably be able to say whether that is so or not.
– Was it received since or before the papers were printed?
– I understand that it was received before the papers were printed. There is one letter from Victoria and another from South Australia, and I am given to understand that the letter of the Premier of South Australia has not been printed. No doubt it will be printed later, and if it is in hand now we shall be very glad to see it. We require not only uniformity of gauge, but unanimity amongst the States. Unless the State Governments are satisfied with the gauge proposed to be adopted as a standard they may simply decline to convert their railways to that gauge.
– A letter from the Premier of Victoria is included in the correspondence.
– 1 was given to understand that the letter from the Premier of South Australia came to hand at about the same time. If the State Governments declined to convert their lines ti> the gauge decided upon we should have to set aside our hopes for the better development of the Commonwealth by the adoption of a uniform gauge. We ought not to rush the States in this matter. There is no reason why we should put the final touches on this measure this session. It should not take very long to obtain expert evidence on the question of gauge. I think that in such a matter the Government should look beyond party considerations, and consult the best interests of Australia. By doing so they will reflect more credit upon themselves than they will by forcing this measure through at the expense, perhaps, of disaster later on, and the ill-will of some of the States.
– Does the honorable senator not thinK that we ought to build the other railway first - the. line from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek?
– I shall not discuss that at the present time. I have to say that the proposed transcontinental railway is not absolutely necessary at the present time. I think that it was Major-General Hutton who said that until we had put our Defence Force in proper order, and it can be mobilized and made ready for action, it would be a disaster to construct this line, if we are to regard it as a line for military purposes. In his opinion, to construct a line to any place at which an enemy might land, before we had a sufficient force to repel a landing, would only be inviting an enemy, and placing ourselves at his mercy. It must be remembered also that it will be a very long time before this . railway will pay. In another place estimates of expenditure and revenue were given, and it was suggested very hopefully that it would pay in ten years’ time. I was glad to notice that the Minister of Defence was not so sanguine. He adopted a prudent course, and admitted that it is quite impossible to say when this railway will pay. It might be generations before it will pay. It will always have to compete with sea traffic. The country through which it goes is not developed, and we do not know sufficient of it to say to what extent it can be developed. This will not be like the great railways of America and Canada, where settlement on great areas has been carried out by private companies. In obtaining permission to construct their lines these companies have been given concessions of very large grants in alternate blocks of 10 miles square. They have realized that their lines can only be made to pay by introducing people, and they have made it their special business to get the people, and settle them on the land, to enable the lines to pay. People mean dividends, and without them’ there can be no dividends for the owners of such lines. We have not a similar incentive here. The Government do not betray any great anxiety to bring people here in order to make our lines pay. We cannot construct a line like this, 1,063 miles long, in the way lines have been constructed in America and Canada.
– Look at the benefit which has followed the policy adopted in Canada.
– I call attention to the state of the Senate. [Quorum formed.]
– The statements which have been made in respect both of the land and water to be found on the route of this projected line are somewhat hazy. The position from the stand-point of whether supplies of water are available is very obscure indeed. We have no Andes or Rockies traversing the country ; and if such an essential as water be absent, we cannot expect to promote settlement, and, consequently, the railway cannot pay. If settlement is to proceed upon pastoral lines, we must recollect that the pastoralist has to cope with numerous pests, and that, consequently, his capital outlay will be very heavy. The estimates which have been made of the probable traffic on the railway are very problematical. Consequently, I say that in this matter we ought to hasten slowly. Under the very best auspices, the undertaking will prove a burden on the Commonwealth for a great many years. We are entitled to make the best bargain that we can. The adoption of any gauge save that of 5 ft’. 3 in. will prove disastrous both to Victoria and South Australia. Nevertheless, those States will not stand in the way of another gauge being adopted, so long as it will fulfil all that is required of it. I wish honorable senators to realize what they are doing in this matter. They are fixing the economic and industrial future of Australia for all time. Consequently, the Bill requires full discussion, in order that we may have as much light thrown upon it as possible. In another place it was somewhat disappointing to find that the Minister in charge of the measure was almost dumb upon it. His entire speech occupied only five pages of Hansard, and he had to be pressed, even by the members of .his own party, for information.
– Order J
– Here the Minister in charge of the Bill behaved little better. It is true that he gave us a fair amount of information, but the great bulk of it was derived from reports. It was second-hand information, and there was little in it to indicate the bearing which the proposed line would have on the rest of the States. Up to the present time the States have constructed all the railways in Australia. The latter are the assets for which money has been borrowed, and they are the security of the money-lender for the repayment of interest. I find from official sources that New South Wales has constructed 3,643 miles of railway of 4-ft. 8^-in.. gauge, at a cost of ,£48,925,348, or £13,43° Per mile. Victoria has built 3,383 miles of railway of 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, at a cost of ;£42,453>8oi, or £12,549 per mile. South Australia has constructed 599 miles of railway of 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, at a total cost of £6,670,794, or £11,136 per mile. South Australia has also built 1,313 miles of railway of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, at a cost of ;£7,737>738> °r an average cost .of £5,892 per mile. In the Northern Territory there are 145 miles of railway on the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, which cost £1,180,155, or £8,m per mile. Queensland has constructed 3,661 miles of railway of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, at a total cost of £24,336,372, or ,£6,648 per mile. Western Australia has built 2,144^ miles of railway of a similar gauge, at a total cost of £11,377.262, or £5,305 per mile. Tasmania has constructed 4454 miles of railway of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, at a total cost of £3,949,441, or £8,860 per mile. Throughout Australia the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railways have been constructed at an average cost per mile of £6,144. In Tasmania the same gauge has cost £8,860 per mile; in New Zealand, £10,494; in Cape Colony, £9,055; and in Natal, £12,861. We are asked to believe that the proposed transcontinental line, which will be 1,066 miles long, can be constructed upon a 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge for. £3,75° per mile, Or a little more than half the average cost of the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge lines, which have been laid down in this country. That is what we are told, despite the fact that the line will be a long one, that it will traverse new country, and that, during recent years, the cost both of the raw material required in its construction, and also of labour, has increased. Yet we are asked to believe that this line can be built for £3,750 per mile. To me, as a layman, that does not seem reasonable. This information has been supplied to us by engineers who have been engaged in laying down lines in their own States for years past But all those lines have been built at a very much higher cost per mile.
– On the eastern goldfields of Western Australia, they have not.
– That may be so. But we do not know how those lines are ballasted - indeed, we know very little of them. We are entitled to look with a certain amount of suspicion upon estimates which have not been realized throughout this continent by the engineers, who now tell us that the proposed railway can be constructed for £3,750 per mile.
– Even a layman knows that it costs more to build a railway over a mountain than it does to construct it over a plain.
– To me, this seems to be the most vital economic question we have to consider, and upon it, the prosperity of the States largely depends. Yet the Commonwealth Government are treating the States as if they were mere cyphers. The former are determined to construct this line without considering the latter in any way. They will not make any definite statement as to who is to bear the cost of the conversion of our Australian railways, if this line be constructed. They merely say that they will give consideration to the requests of the States after it has been constructed.
– It is a States question - not a Commonwealth one.
– That is quite true. It is not a Commonwealth question, and it is a piece of arrogance for the Government to say that they will construct this line how they please, and where they please. We have a right to consult the States in this matter.
– They are consulted - they have their representatives in this Parliament.
– I wish the honorable senator would not interject. The States have already constructed 15,500 miles of railway at a cost of £144,000,000, thus laying a burden of debt on their people of £33 per head, and an interest bill of £5,500,000 annually. In these circumstances, are they to be ignored until the proposed transcontinental railway has. been built? It is only fair that the Commonwealth should come to a proper understanding with them immediately. If there be any place where the rights of the States ought to be considered, that place is this Chamber. The Senate is the States’ House, and honorable senators ought to look at this matter from the point of view of the whole of Australia. I hope that we shall not allow the Bill to pass until justice has been done to the States. I am not opposed to the construction of the line. We have to link up the east and the west, but I wish to see them linked up on terms which will be just to all Australia. - We do not desire any “hifalutin “ of the kind that was indulged in in another place, where the Minister of Home Affairs spoke of the “ unsurpassed beauties,” of Marathon, and of the Seven Hills of Rome. We do not wish to view the proposal, which is embodied in this Bill, in the light of a fanfaronade of words, but merely from a business standpoint. It is a commercial proposition, and we must view it from the point of view of business principles. It is a business and engineering proposition. National considerations will come in afterwards. The military conditions are most important in considering the proposal, but they involve the same features, and have to be considered in the same light, as commercial efficiency. That which will make for commercial efficiency will fulfil the highest military conditions, and vice versa. Never before have I known a Parliament or a corporation to be asked to construct a gigantic scheme like this one on such flimsy reasons and explanations as we have before us. In one sense, it will fix the gauge for Australia for all time, and yet it is not consulted on the subject. It proposes to involve the States in an enormous expense, yet it does not say to them “ By your leave.” I do not know that we would have had the correspondence unless I had moved for its production a little while ago. It was certainly not produced until I took action. We are told that the Commonwealth is committed to the construction of this railway. There was no one in power to commit the Commonwealth. Any promise which was given in the matter was made before the Commonwealth was created.
– It is too late in the day to argue in that strain - that matter is settled.
– It cannot be settled; it never happened. There has been no guarantee given on behalf of the Commonwealth that this line would be constructed. What was given was the following letter by Mr. F. W. Holder -
Chief Secretary’s Office,
Adelaide, 1st Feb., 1900.
Following our conversation as to the possible blocking of the construction of a railway line from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta by the Federal Authority, by South Australia refusing consent rendered necessary by section 34 of clause 51 of the Commonwealth Bill, to the construction of the line through her territory, I regard the withholding of consent as a most improbable tiling, in fact, quite out of the question.
To assure you of our attitude in the matter, I will undertake as soon as the Federation is established (West and South Australia both being Stales of the Commonwealth) to introduce a Bill formally giving the assent of this Province to the construction of the line by the Federal Authority, and to pass it stage by stage simultaneously with the passage of a similar Bill in your Parliament.
I have, &c,
That is the guarantee which we are told was given to Western Australia to induce her to come into the Federation. Mr. Holder had no power to give any guarantee on the part of the Commonwealth. He was simply the Premier of the State of South Australia, and that was all that he could do. The following letter was ad dressed to the Prime Minister of Australia by Mr. J. G. Jenkins, Premier of South Australia : -
Adelaide, 31st July, 1901.
In reply to your letter of tlie 23rd instant, I have the honour to inform you that prior to the submission of the Commonwealth Constitution Act for the approval of the people of Western Australia, namely, on rst February, 1900, the Hon. F. W. Holder (then Premier of South Australia) wrote to the Premier of Western Australia (copy of letter herewith) undertaking on specified conditions to introduce a Bill formally giving the assent of this State to the construction of a line of railway to Western Australian border.
On 11th June I telegraphed to the Western Australian Premier as follows : - ” Re Kalgoorlie railway. A Bill will be introduced into our Parliament as agreed by Mr. Holder, rst February, 1900, but we strongly insist upon line joining your State forty to sixty miles north of Eucla.”
The Bill has not yet been introduced. 1 have, &c,
That is all the correspondence on which the alleged . promise stands. There was no promise by the Commonwealth. There was only a promise by the Premier of South Australia to do his best to get the line constructed and to bring in a Bill guaranteeing to give the land and facilitate the construction of the railway.
– What about Mr. Deakin’s promise at Albany?
– Admitting that a promise was given, is that any reason why we should not be prudent, why we should not look carefully at the whole question, and do the best we can for Australia?
– Yes ; but we should be honest.
– We should be prudent, careful, and honest to all Australia* We find that engineering experience has; been ignored. Modern engineering ex,perience has not been taken into considera-tion. We should act as if we were dealing with our own money. As the trustees of the public purse, we should see that public money is spent in the best interests of Australia. Other States have built all their railways. They have not asked the Commonwealth to carry out the work for them. Only last year the Queensland Parlia-ment authorized the construction of a num. ber of railway lines at a cost of almost £7,000,000. These have as good a right to be considered transcontinental lines as has this proposed line. Queensland is constructing these lines with her own money, and asking no help from any one. We have to consider that fact. We have had the Minister of Defence telling us about this wonderful State in the West ; its great production ; its magnificent promise for the .future ; and how this line is going to be a success. And yet he comes as a suppliant to this Parliament, and tells us that it is unfair to ask for any guarantee, or for any land to be given.
– Suppose that we got the land, what is the good of it?
– I have not come to that point.
– There are only 400 miles of the line to be built in Western Australia.
– We have to be just to all the States. When another State is expending on transcontinental railways the enormous amount of £7,000,000 we must take that fact into consideration, because that State, with the others, including Tasmania, will have to bear the burden of this railway if constructed by the Commonwealth. We should see that the Commonwealth makes the best bargain it can.
– This is parochialism with a vengeance.
– No. I am looking at the matter from the broadest aspect. The railways which are being constructed are running into the danger zone of Australia, much more so than will the line which we are considering. They will run away to the nearest point of danger which the continent has at present. We have to consider that any decision given on this proposal will be irrevocable, and that if we make a mistake the consequences will be very serious indeed. As regards the adoption of the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge, it is right that we should know who is to blame for that economic blunder in order that we may do justice in the matter of unification. How this particular gauge first came in no one seems to know. It has no special virtue. It is a good gauge, and has done good service ; but it is not better than other gauges. What we have to consider is, Is this the best gauge for Australia, and how did it come to be adopted here? We know that railway construction in Australia was first mooted in Sydney in 1846. An application was made to the Home Government as to which gauge they would recommend, and the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge was the one used in England. Just about that time New South Wales had received a Legislature, although with very limited authority, be cause she had no power to appoint public servants. Her leading officials were all appointed by the Crown, and, therefore, their sympathies were with England, and English customs. In 1850, the Australian Colonies Government Act was passed, and in due course Victoria was created a separate Colony, with a Legislature. On the first reference of the matter to the Home Government in 1846, the adoption of the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge was recommended. It was going to be taken up, but the engineer of the Sydney Railway Company, Mr. Shields, very strongly recommended the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. He went thoroughly into the matter, and his representations had such effect that the company wrote to Sir Charles Fitzroy, the Governor, asking if it might be allowed to adopt that gauge, and this it was allowed to do. The company, through the Government, communicated with Victoria and South Australia . and asked that, in order that there might be no break of gauge in the future, those two Colonies should fall into line, and construct their railways on the same gauge as New South Wales was adopting. Just at this time the question of gauge was exciting a great deal of attention throughout the world, India was going into the matter very fully, and after long deliberation and close examination she finally adopted for her trunk lines the 5-ft. 6-in. gauge. New South Wales, as I said, adopted the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, and passed an extremely stringent Act, with very harsh penalties provided. I refer to an Act for regulating the gauge of railways which was assented to on 27th July, 1852, and which reads as follows -
Whereas it is expedient to define the Gauge on which Railways shall be constructed within the Colony of New South Wales Be it enacted by His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council thereof as follows : -
It shall not be lawful to construct any Railway for the conveyance of passengers on any Gauge other than a Gauge of five feet three inches.
And if any Railway used for the conveyance of passengers shall be constructed or altered contrary to the provisions of this Act the company or person authorized to construct the Railway or in the case of any demise or lease of such Railway the company or person for the time being having the control of the works of such Railway shall forfeit ten pounds for every mile of such Railway which shall be so unlawfully constructed or altered during every day that the same shall continue so unlawfully constructed or altered and in estimating the amount of any such penalty any distance less than one mile shall be estimated as a mile.
And over and above the penalty hereby provided if any Railway used for the conveyance of passengers shall be constructed or altered contrary to the provisions of this Act it shall be lawful for the Surveyor-General of the Colony or other officer or person authorized by the Governor of the Colony in that behalf to abate and remove the same or any part thereof so constructed or altered contrary to the provisions of this Act and to restore the site thereof to its former condition.
All penalties under this Act may be recovered from the company or persons liable to pay or make good the same by or in the name of Her Majesty’s Attorney or Solicitor-General for the said Colony and shall be paid to Her Majesty Her Heirs and Successors to be applied to the public uses of the said Colony and in support of the Government thereof in such manner as may be directed by any Act or Acts to be passed by the Governor and Legislative Council.
There could not be any stronger provisions passed in regard to the construction of a line, and, therefore, Victoria and South Australia, when representations were made that they should fall into line with that gauge, naturally thought that that gauge, having been deliberately adopted and carried on under such provisions as I have quoted, there would not have been the least chance of it ever being altered. Therefore we found Victoria adopting that gauge, and South Australia following suit. Victoria constructed the Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay line, and began the construction of the Melbourne and Geelong line, on the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. I believe that 40 miles of the Mr Alexander railway had already been commenced. South Australia had passed an Act adopting the same gauge, and began the construction of the Adelaide to Port Adelaide line. When Mr. Shields, the engineer, left the service of the Sydney Railway Company, his place was taken by an English engineer, Mr. N. S. W. Wallace. He had been connected in England with some of the large engineering firms, and naturally came out with proclivities in favour of the 4-ft- 81/2-in. gauge. He began to work for the adoption of that gauge in New South Wales; and so great was the influence whichhe was able to bring to bear that in August,1855, the Act of1852 was repealed, and the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge was adopted without any reference to Victoria, and without saying, “By your leave” to that Colony, or to South Australia, with which an arrangement had been made. I say that that breach of faith, deliberately made on the part of New South Wales, ought to be remembered now, when we have to build Commonwealth railways, because it is not the fault of either South
Australia or Victoria that we have to face a dislocation of gauges.
– What in the name of Heaven have we to do with that !
– We have everything to do with it, because, as the cost of conversion has to be paid for by somebody, these facts ought to be taken into consideration. When representations were sent Home from New South Wales regarding the adoption of the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge, Governor Latrobe, of Victoria, entered a strong protest against it. He sent a despatch to Earl Grey, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, asking him to recommend the Queen not to assent to the Act, but to recommend the adoption of the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge as agreed upon. Governor Latrobe thus showed that he looked upon what had been done as a breach of faith; but some power was, I suppose, at work - probably the same power as enabled the Riverina to be snatched from Victoria - and was strong enough to get the New South Wales Act signed. That is how it comes about that to-day we have to face this break of gauge, and it is well that the public should know what occurred. Mr. Wallace was succeeded by another EngineerinChief, Mr. Whitton, and he begged New South Wales to revert to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. But he was told that it could not be done. In1857 Captain Martindale was Engineer-in- Chief, and he also recommended that New South Wales should go back to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. His representations, however, were not accepted. Later on Mr. Eddy several times brought the matter up, and tried to bring about an understanding amongst the States in order to secure uniformity of gauge.
– Does the honorable senator recollect what Mr. Eddy recommended ?
– I do not think that he mentioned any gauge, but he urged that the whole subject should be considered, and the best gauge adopted. There is no doubt that, as an English engineer, his sympathies would be with the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge; but he did not say so in connexion with these representations. There are questions of loading gauge and of clearances, technical considerations, which I do not propose to discuss just now, although they are of considerable importance. It is well to remember that the broader gauge lines will carry a greater traffic in proportion.
– Does the honorable senator say that working expenses axe less on the broader gauge?
– Less on the whole, in comparison with what the lines can carry.
– Then why not have a 10-ft. gauge.
– That would be going too far. At the time to which I have been referring, India was looking into the question of gauges. The English engineers naturally desired to adopt the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge; but Mr. Sims, then consulting engineer for India, reported as follows : -
The wider gauge of 5 ft. 6 in., which I would recommend for adoption, will give 94 inches more space for the arrangement of the several parts of the working gear of the several parts of the locomotive engines; and this, additional space will be more needed in India than in Europe, not only on account of the machinery itself, but it would lower the centre of gravity of both the engines and carriages, the result of which would be to lesson their lateral oscillation, and render the motion more easy and pleasant, and at the same time diminish the wear and tear.
The lowering of the centre of gravity, consequent on the adoption of the wider gauge, appears to me of great importance for another reason, namely, the fearful storms of wind so frequent at certain seasons of the year, and I think it very probable that in one severe nor’wester, not to mention such hurricanes as that of 1842, the additional 94 inches of width might make all the difference between the safety and destruction of the trains; and one such accident, attended, as it doubtless would be, with great loss of life, would probably retard the progress of the railway system in this country very considerably.
India adopted the 5-ft. 6-in. gauge, and when this report refers to “ the gauge to be adopted “ that is what is meant. Lord Dalhousie, then Governor-General of India, dealt with the subject at length. He wrote -
At one time this question was much before me ; and although I should not myself attempt to offer an opinion on so vexed a question, yet I may venture to form one on the recorded views of men competent in every way to judge. The evidence which has been given before the Gauge Commissioners in 1846, and evidence which has been given from time to time before the Committees of Parliament, backed, as it has been by very high authority abroad, is, I venture to think, sufficient to show that the narrow gauge of 4 ft. 8£ in. (a measurement adopted originally at haphazard, and from the accident of local circumstances), is not the best gauge for the general purposes of a railway, and that something intermediate between the narrow gauge of 4 ft. 84 in., and the broad gauge of 7 feet, will give greater advantages than belong to the former, and will substantially command all the benefits which are secured by the latter.
There is a great deal more on the same subject, all of which strengthens the claim for the wider gauge. India adopted the 5-ft. 6-in. gauge deliberately, after due investigation of the experience of other countries. Of course, I am aware that India also has some 3-ft. 6-in. lines, but they are feeder lines, chiefly in mountainous country, where a 5-ft. 6-in. railway would, of course, be very much more expensive than is the case on more level ground. After the refusal of New South Wales to adhere to the arrangement as to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, the subject came before the Legislative Council of Victoria. A Commission was appointed which took evidence from Mr. C. Pasley, colonial engineer ; Mr. C. Swyer, civil engineer; Mr. W. S. Chauncey, Mr. F. C. Christy, and Mr. A. Thomson. The result of a very careful inquiry, carried on over two or three years, was as follows : -
The Select Committee appointed on the 29th September, r8s3, “ to take evidence and report upon the best gauge for railways in this colony,” have the honour to report to your Honorable House : -
That in commencing their investigation into the important subject intrusted to them, your Committee addressed themselves to the correspondence with reference to the gauge of railways, laid on the Council table, on the 31st August last, by the Honorable the Colonial Secretary, and which was referred by your Honorable House to the consideration of your Committee.
From these and other documents it appears that the Government of New South Wales passed an Act establishing the medium gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. as the standard for that colony, and Earl Grey, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, addressed the Governments of the adjoining colonies, recommending the adoption of the same. This was accordingly done with respect to the Colony of Victoria, during the last session of the Legislative Council ; and two of the Railway Companies now actually carrying on their works have already forwarded extensive orders for rolling-stock,’ and other materials, upon the faith of this decision.
It appears, however, that without due inquiry into the views and intentions of this colony, the Government of New South Wales have rescinded their former decision and determined upon the ‘ adoption of . the narrow gauge of 4 ft. 84 in.
After an attentive perusal of the various letters included in that correspondence, your Committee are unanimously of opinion that the Government of New South Wales was not warranted in abruptly changing the gauge from the uniform width of 5 ft. 3 in. (which had been generally adopted throughout the Australian colonies) to the narrow gauge of 4 ft. 84 in., without first having obtained the concurrence of the Government of the adjoining colony to a measure fraught with so much importance to the general interests of the whole of them.
Your Committee therefore suggests to your Honorable House the propriety of presenting an address to His Excellency the LieutenantGovernor, praying his Excellency to call the attention pf the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the enactment passed by the Legislature of New South Wales for altering the gauge of railways from 5 ft. 3 in. to 4 ft. 8£ in., and to respectfully request that the Royal assent may be withheld from that Act.
Your Committee, in the exercise of their discretion, have called before them competent persons to give evidence on the relative merits of the various gauges, from whose united testimony it appears to your Committee that a medium gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. is the most suitable gauge for the general purposes of railway transit that can possibly be adopted; that there will be no difficulty in procuring the necessary stock and machinery, as compared with that adapted for the narrow gauge ; that the expense will be no more, and that the safety, at equal rates of speed, will be much greater.
Your Committee, therefore, taking into consideration that the gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. had already been agreed to by the Governments of the Australian colonies ; that it had received the sanction of the Home Government, and the railways in course of construction in this colony are of that gauge, and that the balance of the evidence given before your Committee greatly preponderates in favour of the adoption of a uniform gauge of 5 ft. 3 in., your Committee feel no hesitation in recommending to your Honorable House that in all future enactments authorizing the construction of lines of railway in this colony a strict adherence to the gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. should in every case be insisted on.
Your Committee, bearing ‘ in mind that the best railway gauge for the Australian colonies had previously been decided to be 5 ft. 3 in., and that that gauge would not be departed from, except in deference to the opinion of the Government of New South Wales, or unless it could be shown to be inferior to the gauge of 4 ft. 8£ in., did not feel it necessary to prolong their sittings for the purpose of hearing other witnesses than those whose evidence is appended to this report, and which, in the opinion of your Committee, is sufficiently conclusive in favour of an adherence to the gauge already adopted in these colonies.
In closing their report, your Committee feel that they cannot too strongly deprecate the making of railways with various gauges, when the Governments of these colonies, by a unanimity of action, might establish and perpetuate a uniformity of gauge, and thereby entirely obviate the numerous evils incident to a want of uniformity in the railway communications of a country. (Sgd.) JOHN HODGSON,
Thursday, 20th October 1853.
It is just as well to put these facts into Hansard, because it should be recorded for all time to come how this break of gauge in Australia came about. Of course, every one knows what the gauge of a railway is. It is simply the distance between the tops of the rails on which the wheels of the trains run. Ireland, after careful consideration, adopted the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. She did not adopt the English gauge, because, being an island, she had no railway communication with other countries. Russia adopted a 5-ft. gauge. At that time England was he home of manufactures, and especially of mechanical industries. Other nations went to her for rolling-stock, and, naturally, adopted her gauge. In those countries of Europe which were contiguous it was necessary that the gauge should be uniform, in order that trains might run from one country to another. But it is now a matter of regret to many countries that the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge was adopted. There is no doubt that standardization must come in Australia some day; and I believe that it is practically upon us now that the Commonwealth is about to build railways. But it seems to me that the whole of the merits of the respective gauges should be inquired into. Practically only two gauges are in question, the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge and the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge. A country like Australia, with its low altitude, its lack of very great mountain barriers, of these two. gauges the broader is very much the better. The train rate and length are determined by the width of gauge and the permanent structures. We know that in America to-day, and in Great Britain too, the train rate and length have over-reached their economic limit, and that is determined by the gauge and grade. In America the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge would not now be recommended. We are not too far committed to that gauge. We can call a halt, and adopt another gauge if, after due inquiry, it is found desirable to do so. What I am asking now is not that we should adopt any particular gauge for this line, but that there should be an inquiry by the best modern engineering experts to guide us In the matter.
– The honorable senator favours the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge?
– As a layman, I do. But I am not bigoted in the matter, and I desire that the question should be referred to the best men available. They should visit countries in which broad and narrow gauges are used, find out their experience, and whether those that have a narrow gauge would, if starting railway construction over again, retain the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge, or adopt a wider gauge. I have had a good deal to do with the authorization of lines in the past twenty-six years in Victoria’, and I can say that the main consideration has been to get lines constructed as cheaply as possible. They have been constructed with borrowed money on which interest has had to be paid, and the idea has been to get as many miles as possible constructed for as little money as possible. Considerations of grade have not in the circumstances received the attention they deserved. A very slight difference in grade makes a very great difference in the pull of an engine, and the economic working of a line. In Victoria and New South Wales many lines have had to be regraded in order to meet the increasing volume of traffic. In America hundreds of millions sterling have been spent in strengthening lines and bridges, and rectifying errors of the past due to the adoption of a narrower gauge than would be adopted in that country at the present time. Compared with older countries of the world we may be said only to be beginning railway construction. We have yet time to rectify the errors of the past, if there have been errors. So far as my reading goes power and efficiency depend upon a wide gauge and a level road, because it has been said that the law of gravitation is immutable, and it is a ruling factor in regard to railways. As we had to buy our experience in irrigation and other matters, so we have to buy our experience in railways, and we should take stock now that we have the chance, and before it is too late. I have already mentioned that in Canada and America the railway construction question was solved by the associationof railways with land. The companies gotland given to them, and as the railways did not pay they made a profit from the settlement of the land. Here our population has not been increased in the same way. We have constructed lines of railway throughout this great country, but have not taken similar steps to bring people here. If we are going to make our railways, and especially this line, pay, the Commonwealth will have to adopt a vigorous system of immigration, otherwise this line will be a loss to us for all time. I wish now to refer to the Conference of Railways Commissioners which was held in Melbourne in1897, and at which the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge was recommended. As I have said, the report of this Conference was really the basis on which all the later recommendations rest. They do not rest upon close inquiry by experts, but because the Railways Commissioners, who were not, I think, engineers, recom mended that gauge. I have here the minutes of that Conference, and they are very interesting reading -
Minutes of a meeting of the Railways Commissioners of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, held in Melbourne on Monday and Tuesday, 23rd and 24th August,1897, to consider and report on the unification of the railway gauges as desired by the Right Honorables the Premiers of their respective colonies, at Adelaide, on 8th April,1897.
Mr. John Mathieson (Victoria), in the chair,
Mr. Charles Oliver (New South Wales),
Mr. Allan G. Pendleton (South Australia).
The memorandum of the Right Honorables the Premiers was read as follows : - “The question of a uniform gauge for Australia was discussed, and as it was agreed that it wasdesirable, looking at the annually increasing intercourse of the people, and the exchange of goods, that the adoption of a uniform gauge should be carefully considered, it was resolved that the Railways Commissioners of the three Colonies be requested to meet as early as practicable, and submit their recommendation : -
The Commissioners, in view of the contemplated Federation of the Australian Colonies, and the desirability of providing the utmost facility for inter-communication, are impressed with the necessity of having as soon as possible a uniform gauge. “ 2. The probable cost of carrying out the change.”
The mileage (including double roads, sidings, and private coal lines) of 4-ft. 81/2-in. and 5-ft. 3-in. gauge in the various Colonies is as under : -
The cost of the unification of the gauges as estimated by the engineering officers would be as follows : -
In view of the great difference in cost, the Commissioners are strongly of opinion that the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge should be adopted in lieu of the 5-ft. 3-in., as being at _ present the most economical method of securing the end aimed at.
That has been the ruling factor all through ; cheapness and the lesser cost of conversion. The Conference did not consider the interests of the future, and the fact that by not having the fullest railway facilities a tax would be imposed upon the producers of the country for all time. They looked at the present cost of conversion, and recommended accordingly. They were followed in this respect by other Conferences that sat subsequently. The Conference of Engineers said the adoption of the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge would be the cheapest course to follow, and the War Railway Council took the same view. The question of commercial efficiency and the carrying of higher loads at lesser rates was completely lost sight of.
– Does the honorable senator think that the members of those Conferences never took into consideration the utility of one gauge as compared to the other?
– I have no doubt they did. Mr. Mathieson was a 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge man. I do not know where Mr. Oliver and Mr. Pendleton came from, but Mr. Mathieson was a Scotch railway manager, and was accustomed to narrow-gauge railways.
– He was in Queensland before he came to Victoria.
– I am aware of that. He was accustomed to the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge in the Old Land, and to the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge in Queensland. He was doubtless affected by his environment of English’ workers, work-shops, engines, and rollingstock, and the narrow gauge adopted in Queensland, and he was not prepared to face the cost of conversion to the wider gauge. These Commissioners had to make their lines show a profit. They did not desire honour and glory forty years later. They wished to get a name ‘for cheap management, and to be able to show that they could run their lines cheaper than they had been run before. They looked, as all imported Commissioners have done, to the present. We had an experience of this in the last Victorian Railways Commissioner, Sir Thomas Tait. That gentleman allowed the stock to run down to such an extent, while he was making a name for himself for cheap management, that we had to send out of the country for engines. These Commissioners were not engineers, and did not go into the merits of the questions of traction, economy, and commercial efficiency. They simply looked at the present cost, and desired to secure credit for an increase of railway revenue. There is a very extraordinary statement in the document from which I have quoted which I was amazed to see. The Commissioners say -
If the Governments of the respective Colonies determine to take steps towards the unification of the gauges, the Commissioners suggest that all new rolling-stock should be constructed with that object in view.
Will it be believed that those charged with the superintendence of the construction of railway stock in Victoria have been for some years past, in anticipation of the adoption of the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge, and without consulting the Government, or obtaining the consent of Parliament - because the Government have told me that they knew nothing whatever about it - constructing railway stock for Victoria for the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge, instead of the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge? They have been building waggons to carry lighter loads, and this must have increased the cost of working. I was amazed when I found this out, and, further, that the Government of the day knew nothing about it. It seems an extraordinary thing that those in charge of our workshops in Victoria could make such a change as to construct Victorian stock to run on a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge with bodies only fit for a 4-ft. 8-in. gauge, and without the people, Parliament, or the Government being aware of what was done. The Commissioners further reported - “ 3. In what proportion they recommend the cost of the change shall be borne by the respective Colonies.”
The question of the distribution of the cost of the change was discussed by the Commissioners at great length ; but they were unable to» agree upon the proportion which should be borne by each Colony. “ 4. The number of years the cost of the change should be spread over ; and the amount of money to be set aside each year as a sinking fund.”
Having regard to the national aspect of the question as affecting the Australian Colonies as a whole, and to the fact that the change is not expected to bring about any immediate increase of railway revenue, the Commissioners are of opinion that the necessary fund should be provided by a loan raised under Federal control, and that a sum of money should be set aside annually as a sinking fund for the purpose of paying off the loan in such manner as may be deemed advisable by the Federal authorities. Further, that no portion of the cost of the unification of the gauge should be added to the railway capital. “ 5. The date on which the commencement of the change of gauge might, with economy, be arranged ; and the probable length of time it would take to complete the work.”
The Commissioners agree that the work can be carried out within five years from the date of Us commencement. (Signed) JOHN MATHIESON, CHARLES OLIVER,
I come now to the report submitted by the Engineers-in-Chief in 1903. The various States were represented on that occasion by the following gentlemen : - New South Wales, by H. Deane (Chairman); Queensland, by Wm. Pagan; South Australia, by Alex. B. Moncrieff; Victoria, by Maurice E. Kernot; and Western Australia, by C. S. R. Palmer. They met in Melbourne in March, 1903, and they recommended the adoption of a 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge, and based their estimates thereon. They did so chiefly on account of its cheapness. But they were not unanimous on the subject, and Mr. Moncrieff, the Engineer-in-Chief for South Australia, very strongly objected to the 4-ft. 8-in. gauge, though, in the report, his objection is not set out. But the correspondence which followed includes a letter from Mr. Moncrieff on the subject, which is dated 14th October, 1909.
– For six years he appears not to have known that his dissent had never been handed in with that report. It seems an extraordinary thing that for six years the Conference of EngineersinChief, which met in Melbourne in 1903, was regarded as having been unanimous in its recommendations, and that the dissent of Mr. Moncrieff was not made public. In a letter to Mr. Miller, Secretary to the Department of Home Affairs, he expresses himself on the subject as follows -
I received to-day in an envelope from your office, and without memorandum of any kind, a document which purports to be a copy of our joint report on the transcontinental railway survey, but this document does not contain a copy of my dissent which was attached to the original report, and I shall feel very much obliged if you can send me the same, so that it may be placed along with the rest of the documents for transmission to my Government.
I have no doubt that the omission of what, to this State, is an important item of the report, was entirely an oversight ; and I shall be glad to have your assurance that the original of that dissent was in due course forwarded by Mr. Deane to the Federal Government.
His dissent reads -
On behalf of the South Australian Government I dissent from the adoption of the 4-ft. 84-in. gauge for the final estimate for this railway, because my Government objects to an arrangement which involves three breaks of gauge between Perth and Adelaide.
– It was his own opinion. Look at the indignation which is expressed in his letter, in which he complains that his dissent from the recommendation of the Conference in respect of the adoption of the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge was no* made public.
– He only expresses the opinion of the South Australian Government on the matter.
– He attended the Conference as the representative of that Government.
– Mr. Moncrieff’s dissent had reference to the report of the Conference which met in 1909, because the EngineersinChief were called together on two occasions.
– I have not been able to ascertain that Mr. Moncrieff took part in any Conference prior to the one I have mentioned. I come now to the War Railway Conference. I hold in my hand the proceedings of the War Railway Council, which assembled at the Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, on the 14th, 15th, and 16th February of the present year, and at the Commonwealth Offices, Sydney, on 19th May, 191 1. In regard to a uniform railway gauge, the nineteenth resolution of the Council reads -
In the interests of defence this War Railway Council affirms the desirability, as regards the main lines of communication, of a uniform gauge for the railways of Australia.
The Council in their last resolution recommended -
The members of the Conference accepted that resolution, because it had been previously agreed to by the Railways Commissioners, and because it recommended a cheaper method of effecting the conversion of existing gauges. But there was a dissent even from that resolution. Mr. Thallon, the Railway Commissioner of Queensland, requested that the following motion proposed by him, but which was not accepted by the War Railway Council, be noted in the proceedings, namely : -
Adelaide to Melbourne, 5 ft. 3 in.
Melbourne to Sydney, 4 ft. 81/2 in.
Sydney to Brisbane, 4 ft. 81/2 in.
– It is not correct to say that he dissented from the report, because he signed it.
– He was in favour of further inquiry being instituted into the matter, which is all that we ask for to-day.
– I am in a position to say that he did not intend that addendum as a dissent from the report.
– He may not have dissented from the report, but evidently he wanted further information as to the cost of the conversion before he committed himself to it. I wish now to deal with a speech which was delivered by the Minister of Defence in moving the second reading of this Bill. In discussing the railways in Siberia, he said -
Even in Asia, bisected as it is with vast rivers, railways have been found a necessity, and the Government of Russia have planned and carried out that vast work, the trans-Siberian railway. Not content with a single track, they are duplicating the railway from one end to the other. It is reported that the railway has so far justified itself; it has opened up country which previously lay idle, and which was thought to be unusable, to such an extent that a duplication of the line was called for and the work is now proceeding.
Is not that an argument in favour of the adoption of a broader gauge? The very fact that the trans-Siberian line had to be duplicated shows that we should adopt a wider gauge.
– It shows that even the wider gauge did not prevent the necessity for duplication.
– The Minister also said -
In 1903, as theresult of Federal action, the Engineers-in-Chief of the various States railways met in Melbourne. After going into the subject very fully, they recommended the construction of a line on a 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge, and estimated the cost at£4,559,000. In1907, after a Bill had been previously introduced on two occasions - it was once defeated and once talked out in the Senate - a measure to provide for a survey was finally passed, appropriating £20,000 for the purpose.
In all these deliberations, technical officers were never consulted. The matter seems to have been left entirely to the War Railway Council, and to the business managers. The engineers were not called upon to offer their opinions on the subject.
– In1908, the whole of the data collected by the survey parties was referred to the Engineers-in-Chief, and I have their report here. Are not they experts ?
– Yes; but I do not know that they are the best experts to deal with a matter of this kind. They are under the control of the Railways Commissioners, and they would naturally be very chary about acting in opposition to them.
– Will any expert be right who does not agree with the honorable senator?
– This is too big a question to be treated thus lightly. It was the lay officers of the Railway Departments who determined this matter. The Railway
Commissioners are not appointed to investigate engineering facts, but to manage our railways, and to make them pay. They are not skilled in nice points regarding the width of gauge which ought to be adopted, and the steepness of the gradients, &c. The Minister of Defence told us that the gradient would be one in eighty, and he quoted from the surveyor’s report to that effect. Now, it seems to me that where the gradient is a very light one, we ought to lay down the best possible line. I am told that even a gradient of one in eighty will make a very great difference to the cost of haulage. Unless we consider this question very carefully, our action will certainly result in the imposition of taxation upon al] our producers. While the reduced cost may assist the passenger traffic .to-day, the Commonwealth will have to pay the price of the saving at a later period. For that reason, it seems to me, as a layman, that a saving in the cost of construction can only be made at the cost of commercial efficiency byandby - at the cost of producers and passengers. The cheaper cost, of the line to-day will mean a lower standard of efficiency, and, apparently, the States are to be coerced into adopting that lower standard: The Minister has stated that the gradient will be i in 80, but I think I have read. that it is to be 1. in 70.
– I quoted from the report.
– If 1 in 70 is to be the gradient, as far as my inquiries havegone it is a very steep gradient for a transcontinental railway. It will increase all haulage cost by 36 per cent, for all time, as compared with the ruling gradient of even 1 in 100. Such grades, it seems to me, are just a sign of cheapening the first cost of the work, and at the expense of efficiency and greater profit later. It has been said that Lord Kitchener supported the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge. I have not been able to find in any report of his utterances that he was In favour of that gauge, as against the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. He was simply against a narrow gauge ; but he was speaking in a country with a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, of which he did not approve. Yesterday I questioned the Minister about procuring for the information of the Senate some photographs which have been taken of the route of this line. I do not know if he has heard whether they can be obtained.
– They are private photographs, and we are obtaining copies of them.
– They will be very useful to honorable senators. The Minister of Defence seemed to be fairly optimistic in regard to the matter of water supply. I do not share his optimism. There is a long tract of country to be traversed, with a very light rainfall. There are no great catchments, no mountains, from which the water can be carried down. I am afraid that this will be a very difficult problem indeed. I do not know that the amount set down for providing a water supply will be sufficient. There may be an artesian basin, but I cannot find in the reports any chemical analysis of the water which is available. It is a most important question that we should know whether the water along the route is fit for use in locomotive engines. I know that the great trouble in going over the prairies in America was to get water free from alkaline. I do not find in the reports on this proposal full information as to the quality and the quantity of the water supply, and as to whether it is fit for use on locomotives or not. These are details which ought to have been supplied, because they have a very important bearing on the proposal. In fact, the whole question of water supply seems to be left obscure. The cost of providing water has been cut down from £609,000 to £456,000, thus showing a saving of £155,000. That seems to be in accordance with the policy of trying to put before Parliament the lowest possible estimate. We ought not to cut estimates down, but to keep them up as high as efficiency may require. It will only mean disappointment later, and will create a feeling of irritation if the line should cost more for construction and running than we are led to believe at the present time. We are told that wooden pipes can be used, which will not be subject to corrosion as iron pipes would be. We do not know how wooden pipes will act in a country where we have white ants to contend with. For a short distance, I dare say that they may be very useful ; but for a great distance we cannot tell how they will stand wear and tear, and the ravages of white ants and other insects. We are told that it is quite possible that internal-combustion engines may be used. I am not an expert in these matters, but I have been trying to gather information on various points as well as I can. I am advised that first-class engineers would not think of using internal combustion engines. We are told in the report of Mr. Deane that, if they can be used, the cost of the provision for water may be brought down to ,£250,000. I am informed that these engines are used to a very limited degree, and only experimentally, on branch lines abroad. They are not used as locomotives for hauling trains, but as engines forming part of single cars. If that is the case, they will bc bound to fail on the proposed line. I do not make that statement from personal knowledge, but as the result of many inquiries which I have made. That is a point into .which I would like the Minister to look into very carefully before he relies on the -estimates. We have been supplied with an estimate of the revenue and expenditure. On this subject the Minister of Defence told us -that, in an official report which was laid before the Senate in 1903, the State Engineers-in-Chief said -
I ask leave of the Senate to conclude my speech to-morrow.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Senate adjourned at. 6.27 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 23 November 1911, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1911/19111123_senate_4_62/>.