10th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Eon. Sir John Newlands) took the chair at 3 p.m. and read prayers.
– I shouldlike to know from the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether the recent visit of the members of the Development and Migration Commission to Canberra was for the purpose of presenting a report to the Government and, if so when honorable senators will have an opportunity to peruse that report?
– I understand thatthe recent visit of the members of the Development and Migration Commission to Canberra was for the purpose of holding a conference with Mr. Amery, the Secretary of State for Dominion affairs.
– According to a recent statement in the press the Federal Capital Commission is likely to be made a permanent body. Can the Leader of the Government in the Senate say whether the statement is correct.
– The Government has not yet decided on its policy in regard to the Federal Capital Commission and therefore any statement of the kind referred to by the honorable senator is premature.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - I have received a communication from Senator Needham, intimating that he intends to move the adjournment of the Senate to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The promise of the Leader of the Government in the Senate that Parliament would have another chance to discuss the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers before the sale was completed.”
Four honorable senators having arisen in their places in support of the motion,
.- I move-
That the Senate at its rising adjourn till 11 a.m. Tuesday, 22nd November.
It will be within the memory of honorable senators that last Friday, when the Senate was discussing an amendment moved by Senator Duncan to the original motionby Senator Kingsmill relating to the printing of the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts on the Commonwealth Government shipping activities, the right honorable the Leader of the Government in the Senate (SenatorPearce) was asked by Senator Greene if Parliament would have another chance to discuss the matter of the disposal of ships before finality was reached. Senator Pearce unhesitatingly replied that before the vessels were sold such an opportunity would be given. When I was speaking to Senator Duncan’s amendment, I expressed the hope that the promise made by the right honorable the Leader of the Senate would be honoured, and that before the vessels were ultimately sold this Parliament would be afforded another opportunity to discuss the whole question. But, in order to make doubly sure, towards the end of the sitting, without notice, I submitted a question to the right honorable the Leader of the Senate in connexion with the matter. He asked that notice be given, and I gave notice of the question. Yesterday I received a reply quite at variance with the statement made by Senator Pearce on Friday. The reply given was not made by Senator Pearce but was furnished to him by the Prime Minister, and it was, speaking from memory, to the effect that, in view of the motion of want of confidence in another place having been defeated, tenders for the purchase of the Australian Commonwealth Line could not be placed on the Table of Parliament, and Parliament would not have another opportunity of discussing the matter. I have not yet seen the Hansard report of Senator Pearce’s remarks on Friday, but I think I am correct in saying that he made a promise that Parliament would have another opportunity to discuss the sale of the vessels before the matter was finally decided. According to the Prime Minister, that opportunity will not be afforded to us. I want to know what position we are in when a right honorable gentleman who occupies the important positions of Leader of the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council, makes a promise and we find that it will not be fulfilled. I take as charitable a view of the matter, as I can. It is possible that Senator Pearce had every intention of keeping his promiseI am not doubting his good faith; the present position is due to a set of circumstances over which he had no control. His Leader, the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has pronounced the dictum that no. opportunity is to be given to discuss further the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I challenge that attitude. The promise which was made by the Leader of the Senate should be honored. Failure to do so will be a distinct breach of faith. Senator Pearce’s statement had a certain amount of influence with honorable senators before they took part in the division. He informed the Senate that if Senator’ Kingsmill’s motion were carried he would regard that as’ a direction from the Senate to the Government to negotiate for the sale of the ships; but if, on the other hand, Senator Duncan’s amendment were carried, that would be regarded as a direction to the Government to stay its hand. It is true that the motion was agreed to; but by no stretch of imagination can that decision, and the defeat of a certain motion in another place, be construed into an authority to sell the ships without again referring the matter to Parliament. Honorable senators who sit on this side realize that the Line is doomed and that the ships will be handed over to the tender mercies’ of the Inchcape Combine; but we claim the right to be present at the funeral obsequies. I can understand the Government entering into negotiations and carrying them to the stage at which it is prepared to accept a certain tender. It is at that stage that the Government, should come down to Parliament, put all its cards on the table, and state the price that has been offered, the conditions under which the ships will be sold, and whether they will be transferred to the British or remain on the Australian register.
– We should only be talking uselessly, if we discussed those matters.
– I do not accept that dictum. This Parliament has the right to be advised of the sale ot what for a number of years, has been a great instrumentality, the amount that is to be paid for it, and the conditions under which it is to be sold. Senator Greene did not ask his question without reason. He had an open mind on the whole question, and was prepared to keep ifc so until concrete facts in regard to the conditions of sale and the amount of purchase money were disclosed. Yesterday honorable senators listened to Senator Pearce delivering a homily to a recalcitrant Government supporter. Senator Duncan was called out of the class and the schoolmaster, in the person of Senator Pearce, publicly caned him, in a political sense - told him he was a naughty boy, and advised him. to act differently in the future. The right, honorable senator claimed that Senator Duncan’s statements had damaged the good name and lowered the prestige of the Government. How can that be damaged which does not exist? If anything would tend to *lower the prestige of a Government, it is the failure of a member of it, who is fully seized of his responsibility to both Parliament and the people, to honour a promise that he has made. I trust that the Leader of the Senate is in a position to advance sound reasons for that failure.
[3.17].- The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) has moved this motion apparently for the express purpose of calling attention to what he regards as a discrepancy between the reply which I made to a question that was asked, by way of interjection, in the course of a debate that took place in this chamber last week, sud a statement that was made by the Prime Minister in another place with relation to the steps that are to be taken by the Government to dispose of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. Although, in my opinion, the matter is not of sufficient importance to warrant this action on his part, I shall remind the Senate of the conditions under which the different statements were made. I plead guilty to the charge that there is a discrepancy between the statements which T made and that which was made by the Prime Minister; but I maintain that there were extenuating circumstances, and I shall endeavour to explain them. The motion which the Senate discussed last week was that the report of the Public Accounts Committee respecting the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, be printed. The Government announced that the passing of that motion would be regarded as an authorization of the proposed sale of the ships. It is obvious that, having obtained that authority, the Government must take steps to ascertain the most favorable conditions for effect ing the sale. It must obtain offers for the ‘ships, either by public tender or otherwise. Senator Duncan moved an amendment to defer the decision, as to whether the ships should be sold, until #the whole of the evidence which had been taken before the Public Accounts Committee was laid on the table of the Senate. I was dealing with. that. The discussion is recorded in Hansard in the following terms : -
– . . . When speaking to the main question I announced that the Government intended to take a vote in each House.
– II the motion is agreed to, will the Government proceed with the disposal of the Line without any further authority from Parliament?
– No. There will have to be further reference to Parliament. If a suitable offer were received it would have to be submitted to Parliament, but I do not know if the introduction of a bill would be necessary.
– Parliament would be consulted?
– Tes; in some way.
– Will the Minister give the Senate that assurance?
Let me state briefly what I had in mind : The Shipping Board was constituted under an act of Parliament and given authority to control the Line. When the question was put to me, I did not have time to consult the act, but I certainly thought that before the vessels could be disposed of, the act would have to be amended. Unlike my colleague here, I was not present when Cabinet fully discussed the matter, although I had been consulted as to the position. Honorable senators will remember that I. had arrived here from England only a day or two before the question was asked. The question put by the Leader of the Opposition was different from that asked by Senator Greene. The former asked - Will he give an assurance to the Senate that, before any tender or tenders received for the purchase of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers are finalized by the Government, the Senate will be given an opportunity to discuss same?
To that I replied that the Prime Minister had supplied the following answer -
The Government does not consider it advisable that tenders should be submitted to Parliament for discussion before being finalized. finch a course would be resented by the business community, and would obviously restrict the field of possible purchasers and act detrimentally on the sale of the Line.
Had I been asked the same question by Senator Greene I should have given the same reply ; but the question he put to me referred to the disposal of the Line - whether we had legal authority to dispose of it without first consulting Parliament. Senator Findley, in his alleged quotation of my remarks yesterday, said -
In the Senate last Friday the Leader of the Government in the Senate was asked whether the Senate would have a further opportunity to consider and discuss the proposed sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and in reply he said “Yes.”
I did not say “ yes “ to any such thing. The Senate was discussing the proposed sale of the Line, and I had intimated that if that discussion ended favorably to the Government, it would be taken as authority to dispose of the vessels. What I had in mind was whether or not we should have to amend the act before the sale could actually take place. That was the reason for my reply to Senator. Greene. Seeing the apparent discrepancy between the Prime Minister’s statement in another place - not his reply to the question asked by Senator Needham - and the reply made by me, i consulted with Senator McLachlan, who had been in consultation with the Attorney-General. He drew my attention to a section in the Commonwealth Shipping Act which authorizes the board, with the consent of the Treasurer, to sell the ships. I remind the Senate that already, in terms of that authority, numbers of ships belonging to the Line have been sold. I admit freely that, taking Senator Greene’s question as implying that parliamentary authority would be necessary, I inadvertently, but without any desire to mislead the Senate gave a reply which seemed to me obvious, but which I” now find is not the course that must necessarily be followed. Whether or not it will be followed I cannot now say. My reply to Senator Greene was based on a misunderstanding of the position.
– The motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition has been more than justified, because it has enabled the
Leader of the Government in this chamber to make the position clear. Yesterday I ‘asked the right honorable gentleman how he reconciled his promise to the Senate with the statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. His reply was, in effect, that it did not matter what promise he, the Leader of the Government in this chamber, gave; the Government and its supporters would be bound by the Government’s policy as enunciated by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the Government in this chamber should lead, not mislead, the Senate, as he. did last Friday. Honorable senators were justified in believing that his promise to the Senate would be honoured, and that the Senate would have a further opportunity of considering the disposal of the Line. The Senate certainly should have that opportunity. The disposal of the Australian Commonwealth Line .of Steamers is a matter of great importance to the people of Australia. Senator Pearce says that it is the Government’s policy to sell the Line. How long has that been the Government’s policy? During the last election campaign neither the Prime Minister nor any member of his Cabinet announced the Government’s policy in that connexion. On the contrary, the electors were led to believe that the Line which had been of such benefit to Australia would be continued.
– They did not anticipate the losses that have been incurred since then.
– It is true that under the act which constituted the Line, the Board, subject to the consent of the Treasurer, can dispose of any ship acquired or vested in it. It is, however, freely stated that two of the three members of the board are opposed to the sale of the Line. If this be true, has the Government authority to sell the Line without an amendment of the act or an alteration of the personnel of the Board? If the Government observes strictly the provisions of the act it cannot dispose of the Line except with the approval of the Board and with the consent of the Treasurer. This point ought to be borne in mind by honorable senators. The Public Accounts Committee, so we are told, went into this subject very thoroughly. Members of that bodyhave information which honorable senators who are not membersof it cannot obtain. During the debate on the motion in the name of Senator Kingsmill last week, honorable senators supporting the Government emphasized that the evidence given before the Public Accounts Committee wasin camera and that the committee based its recommendations on such evidence. The Line has cost the people of Australia many millions of pounds. It is true that the asset has depreciated in recent years; but we should not forget that the Line was established in the interests of, and that it belongs to, the people. We discussed its financial position at some length last week and dealt with its profits and losses.
– There are no profits.
– According to the honorable senator, then, the ships are to be disposed of because of the losses that have been incurred. A year or two ago the Government sold the Geelong woollen mills to Senator Guthrie and his pals. Those mills were showing an enormous profit, so that, after all, the question of profit or loss in the operation of the Line is not taken into account by this Government. Its purpose is to get rid of all Government enterprises whether successful or unsuccessful. My contention is that the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line has been a successful enterprise. Certainly it has been a. profitable undertaking so far as Senator Guthrie and other primary producers are concerned.
– I am afraid the ships have been of no use to the primary producers ; they have been a terrible drag on the country.
– I am sure the honorable senator has not given the position careful thought. He must know that, but for the existence of the Line during the war, the primary producers of Australia would have been confronted with disaster. It saved Australia, and, during that period, it made immense profits. After the war, and when the fleet had been augmented, it rendered signal service to all sections of the community. Any direct loss, as disclosed in the balance-sheet, is more than offset by the indirect gain to the people of Australia. Other Government enterprises show losses, but we do not hear this clamour for their disposal. Canada and the United States of America have suffered heavy losses on their shipping enterprises. We also have incurred losses in respect of this capital city. It is proposed to make it the City Beautiful. To that end an immense sum of money has already been spent here. What is being done for Canberra should be done for the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line, because it, too, belongs to the people of Australia. No one suggests that there should be a change of policy with regard to the Federal Capital.
– Mr. McGrath, one of the honorable senator’s colleagues, declared the other day that it ought to be scrapped.
– I am not responsible for what other members of my party may say. Certain supporters of the Government are also opposed to the sale of the Line, and I have no doubt that members of the Ministry took advantage of the occasion to speak to them about the matter. Possibly they made some unkind remarks to those supporters about their attitude towards the Line. . Apparently they are not allowed to have opinions of their own; they are expected to do as they are told. If they do not believe in the policy of the Government they have to keep silent, or else they are told to join the Opposition. I should like to know whether the Government intends to bring in an amendment of the act which created the Shipping Board. And if it be true that two members of the board are opposed to the sale of the Line, is it intended to depose them and appoint two others? We have a right to know what the Government proposes to do. Anticipating that I shall receive a reply from the Minister on that point, I shall resume my seat.
– The subject under consideration revives once more a question often raised during election campaigns. I refer to the restoration of parliamentary government which, if it means anything at all, means that Parliament shall be the dominant factor in the country. It is well within the recollection of honorable senators that for a considerable time the Government of one of the principal States of the Commonwealth acted in a very highhanded way, without consulting Parliament, and that when an appeal was made to the electors that Government was defeated. If we throw our minds back to the last Federal election and to the one which preceded it, we recall that a policy which the members of this party unanimously supported was that of constitutional government in Australia. Surely that means that the Parliament of the country should be the supreme power. What do Ave find in this case? The Government said it would regard a favorable vote on a motion that a certain paper be printed as a direction to sell the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. We have heard the explanation of the position by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir George Pearce), who said that he then gave an assurance to the Senate under extenuating circumstances, that Parliament would be consulted. We are, I am sure, willing to accept the right honorable gentleman’s assurance, because none of us is faultless, or ready for every emergency. The fact, however, remains that the ‘ assurance given by the right honorable gentleman to the Senate was that Parliament would be consulted before anything further was done in connexion with the sale of the ships. What is the present position ? The Government, having accepted the vote taken in both Houses as a direction to sell the Line, presumably now considers it has a free hand to do so without consulting Parliament. I submit that something more has yet to be done. The Government should take Parliament into its confidence and disclose the terms on which it proposes to sell the ships when that time comes. It is quite conceivable that a business arrangement may be entered into whereby the interests of the Australian people may be prejudiced.
– A state- ment, setting out the conditions under which the Line was to be sold, was made in both Houses.
– Yes, from the Government’s viewpoint. I submit that any offers to purchase the Line should be brought before Parliament. If we give the Government a free hand, how do we know what form the final agreement will take? It may be of such a nature as to seriously prejudice the interests of the people. Parliament should have the right to say what shall be done, as it will have to accept the responsibility. Surely we shall not be blamed, as is frequently the case, if we are not consulted. May I remind the right honorable gentleman of what occurred some time ago in connexion with a similar transaction in Western Australia. It was proposed to acquire a railway line, together with a certain area of land, at an estimated cost of £1,500,000 - not ££,500,000 as is involved in this instance. The Western Australian Government, of which I was then a member, said that the Government’s proposal would be placed before Parliament for approval. That is an instance in which Parliament wa3 consulted and made the supreme and final arbiter. The Government did not attempt to purchase the railway line and the land without reference to Parliament. It recognized its duty to the people, and placed the terms of the offer before Parliament, whose duty it was to accept or reject the proposal. In another place cables were quoted to show that the manager of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers in London said that he had a prospective purchaser at £3,500,000. He cabled to the board to obtain the views of the Prime Minister upon the subject. The Prime Minister, as honorable senators are aware, cabled to the board’s representative in London, saying that if the offer of £3,500,000 was a firm one, and if certain incidentals were agreed to, the agreement would be referred to Parliament. His words were -
Purchasers must clearly understand that any agreement arrived at must be subject to the ratification of Parliament.
That was a declaration by the Government that ally agreement reached must be subject to. the ratification of. Parliament. No guarantee has been given of keeping faith with that declaration. If we are to accept the recent declaration of the Prime Minister in this matter, the Government has not a free hand. In view of the bearing this proposal for the sale of the Line has upon the welfare of a vast body of people in this country, the Government should take Parliament into its confidence, and so keep faith with the declaration made by the Prime Minister only a few months ago in his cablegram to London that whatever tentative agreement was come to, or proposed, for the sale of the vessels, must be subject to ratification of Parliament.
– The further discussion on this question proceeds the more unstable becomes the position of the Government. The motion I have submitted has given the Leader of the Government in the Senate a chance to explain his position. His explanation bears out my own opinion that the statement he made on Friday night last was given in good faith ; but the qualification he has made to-day does not absolve him from responsibility for what he then said. Nor does it justify the Prime Minister’s attitude that lie will dispose of the vessels of the Australian Commonwealth Line without giving the representatives of the people in Parliament a chance to learn the conditions under which they are sold. The issue is not affected by the language in which my question to the Leader of the Senate was couched. It may not be advisable to place the tenders themselves on the table for public dissection; but, undoubtedly, it should be permissible to discuss the general terms of the proposed conditions. On a former occasion, Senator Pearce likened the Senate to a meeting of shareholders in the Australian Commonwealth Line, although I claimed that honorable senators were in the position of directors of the Line. It is wrong that a few members of the Cabinet should be gi ven carte blanche, to sell a great concern without letting their fellow directors know anything. The cablegram quoted by Senator Lynch is another proof of the instability of the Government in connexion with this matter. We have the Leader of the Senate telling us that a chance, will be given for further discussion,, and we have the Prime Minister, in a cablegram to the chairman of the Australian ‘Shipping Board, saying that any agreement to be entered into for the sale of the Line, must be ratified by Parliament. Yet we find the Prime Minister now adopting quite a different attitude. What has happened since he sent that cablegram to prevent him from doing what he then said was necessary? As a matter of fact, the debate which has taken place in both Houses has made it all the more imperative that Parliament should be informed of the Government’s intentions. It is true, as honorable senators have said, that Parliament was not consulted when the vessels were bought; but the position to-day is very different from what it was in 1915. At that time the Constitution was in the melting pot; we were governed by the War Precautions Act, and the Government could do, and did, whatever it liked. To-day parliamentary government is restored. The people demand democratic rule, and that their representatives in Parliament, duly elected to watch their interests, shall be in a position to advise them and determine matters affecting their interests and welfare. The sale of this great instrumentality bears directly on the interests of hundreds of thousands of people in Australia, and their representatives in this Parliament should have every information possible before the sale is effected. For that reason and for others I could advance, I have brought this matter forward. I hope that even now, the Government will change its mind again. It is a mild term for me to use when I say that the attitude it now assumes constitutes a breach of faith. Stronger language could be used to describe it. In view of the statements made by Senator Pearce, and of the cablegram referred to by Senator Lynch, in which the Prime Minister said that any agreement would have to be ratified by Parliament, I submit that the terms of the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers should be submitted to Parliament before, finality is reached.
Question - put. The Senate divided.
Majority .. … 16
Question so resolved in the negative.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
When is it likely that the report of the committee of the League of Nations which dealt with the international population question will be available?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.It is presumed that the honorable senator refers to the “World Population Conference which opened at Geneva on the 31st August last. This conference was an unofficial one, convened by Sir Bernard Mallett, late Registrar-General of England. It was not held under the auspices of the League of Nations, although the Director of the International Labour Office attended and addressed the conference. It is understood thai the conference decided to create a permanent international union to collect data throughout the world on population and kindred matters. The Government has already taken steps to obtain copies of any. report of the proceedings thatmay have been issued by the conference.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Has the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts concerning communications between Tasmania and the mainland been perused by him, and will the Government take early action to give effect to the recommendations of the committee?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts has come to hand, and is receiving consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Has consideration been given to the suitability of Flinders Island as a site for the establishment of the proposed Fish Research Biological Station, in view of the results obtained in this locality as recorded in Mr. H. C. Dannevig’s Report, 1910, on the work of the trawlerEndeavour?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Consideration has not been given to the question of the site for a proposed Fish Research Biological Station. The whole matter is at present purely in the initial stages.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
In the event of the Bight Honorable D. Lloyd-George visiting South Africa in the near future, will the Government extend an invitation to the right honorable gentleman and his family to visit Australia?
– Consideration will be given to this.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Is it the intention ‘of the Government to again submit to the Public Works Committee the question of the construction of the lower ornamental lakes at Canberra?
– The Minister for Home and Territories has supplied the following answer to the honorable senator’s question : -
No decision has yet been reached on the question of whether this project should be resubmitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, but the matter will receive the consideration of the Government at an early date.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
Motion (by Senator Graham), agreed to -
That two months leave of absence be granted to Senator Barnes on account of illhealth.
Debate resumed from 16th November (vide page 1440), on motion by Senator Elliott -
That Statutory Rules 1927, No. 109- Regulations under Defence Act, 1903-27 - be disallowed.
– Senator Elliott argued yesterday that ti new principle had been introduced into our defence legislation. If that be so, if was introduced when the Defence Act of 1927 was passed. The act made provision “ for the regulation, control, or prohibition of the construction of buildings or other erections within areas proclaimed by the Governor-General to be areas in which such regulation, control, or prohibition is necessary for the’ defence of the Commonwealth.” Senator Elliott did not oppose that measure ; but he now says he was under the impression that it was to apply only in time of war. I am at a loss to know how the honorable senator arrived at that conclusion. The Minister who moved the motion for the second reading of the bill said -
This is a very short measure to amend section 124 of the Defence Act, 1903-18, which deals with the particular matters that may be prescribed by regulation. At present there is no power to control the erection of buildings within certain areas in the proximity of forts, nor is there power to prohibit factories, in the vicinity of forts, from issuing smoke during or immediately before any military or air force practice so as to become a nuisance. It is therefore essential that these matters should be made the subject of regulations. Not only is it essential that the efficiency of the fortifications should not be affected by the proximity of buildings within the arc of fire; but it is also desirable, in the national interest, that any industrial works should not be liable to attack and possible destruction.It is also essential that these buildings should not be the means of presenting a larger target to the enemy.
asked if any trouble had been experienced in that way, or whether there was any impending trouble; and the Minister replied, “ Yes ; this is to prevent possible trouble.” Senator Needham supported the measure in the following terms : -
I understand the object of the measure’ is to provide by regulation that no factory or building shall be constructed within the arc of fire of any fort, and also to prevent the smoke nuisance during practice. It is hardly likely that buildings would be erected in the are of fire: hut, if there is no power at present to prevent the erection of buildings in such a situation, it should be provided.
The explanation by the Minister made it quite plain that regulations would operate not only in time of war, but also in time of peace. It would be too late totake action along those lines when an enemy was at our gates. The honorable senator is not justified in suggesting that the powers which were asked for by the Government, and granted by Parliament. were not intended to operate in time of peace.
– These areas are not all in the vicinity of forts.
– I shall supply the honorable senator with particulars of the areas that are affected by the statutory rules to which he has taken exception. I can understand the honorable senator’s attitude from the legal aspect, because there are certain legal difficulties, which I shall endeavour to explain, in relation to titles. Regulation No. 3 provides -
Any person, who without the consent in writing of the Minister (proof whereof shall be upon that person) constructs, in any defence area specified in Table A of the Schedule any building or erection for the manufacture or storage of explosives, oil or other readily combustible material, shall be guilty of an offence.
I suggest that that provision is essential to the defence of Australia. Regulation No. 4 reads -
There are provisions governing application to the Minister, and others, which set out that before giving his consent the Minister may require further information to be furnished to him. Rule 7 provides -
The Minister may, in his absolute discretion, grant or refuse any application made under these regulations or may grant any such application subject to such conditions as to construction, marking of the building or otherwise as he thinks fit.
Rule 9 is as follows: - 1.No person who is prevented by or under these regulations from building in a defence area, shall have any action, claim or demand against the Commonwealth or any officer of the Commonwealth by reason of his being prevented from building.
The penalties are, a fine not’ exceeding £20 or imprisonment for three months, or both. Rule 11 reads -
Where any building or erection is ‘constructed in a. defence area in contravention of these regulations, or in the construction of which any condition attached to the consent of the Minister has not been observed, the Minister may, by notice in writing, require the owner of the building or erection to remove it within the time specified in the notice.
If the owner fails to remove it, it may be removed at his expense. The areas which have been referred to are situated in various parts of the Commonwealth - at Darwin in North Australia; Stanley, Somerset, Cape Yorke, Thursday Island, Bundaberg and Southport in Queensland ; at Manly, Bondi, Coogee, Liverpool, Richmond, Newcastle, Port Stephens and Albury, in New South Wales; at Flinders, Swan Island, Maribyrnong, Point Cook, Laverton and Seymour, in Victoria; and in many other places. These areas are used for various defence purposes such as aerodromes, forts, cable stations, military and naval depots, rifle ranges and so on.
Throughout the States the same course has been adopted in reference to lands in the use of the Defence Department. Although the regulations provide that no person shall be entitled to compensation, that does not preclude the Government from granting reasonable compensation as an act of grace. Should a specific instance of damage to property under these regulations arise, the Government, surely, could be trusted to deal with the matter equitably. It can reasonably be expected that the owners of land in close proximity to areas under the control of the Defence Department are aware of the likelihood of risk to their property. Most cf the land adjoining these areas is not likely to be used for the erection .of high buildings. I also desire to emphasize that the erection of buildings on certain lands is not prohibited by the regulations. The Minister may grant consent at any time. The matter rests in his hands. I can assure honorable senators that the regulations will be administered sympathetically. Action in terms of their provisions will be taken only where it is considered essential for the defence of the Commonwealth. There is nothing new in these regulations. Honorable senators are well aware that the building regulations of every municipality impose restrictions as to the class of buildings which may be erected within certain parts of the municipality. Notwithstanding that, in some instances, those regulations may depreciate the value of land, it has never seriously been suggested that the owners of land affected by them should be compensated by the municipality concerned. Senator Elliott admitted that the regulations would impose no great hardship. He said that he was concerned with the principle underlying them I remind him that Parliament, by passing the existing legislation, has already approved of the principle concerned I was impressed with the honorable senator’s statement as to the possibility of innocent persons purchasing land in the vicinity of these prescribed areas without knowing the restrictions placed upon the erection of buildings thereon. That is a risk caused by one of those disabilities from which this Parliament suffers and must con- tinue to suffer. The issue of titles fo land in Australia, and the control of titles, is vested in the State RegistrarsGeneva] of Titles. Nothing that we can do, either in the way of an Act of Parliament, or a statutory rule, can compel any State Registrar-General of Titles to register on a title any encumbrance or caveat. All that this Parliament can do is to pass legislation and to proclaim the districts concerned; but I can assure my honorable friend that the Government has taken this matter into very serious consideration, and feels that the only course it can adopt it to send a notification to the proper State authority, setting out the lands affected by the regulations, and leave it to the good sense of the Government concerned to acquaint its Registrar-General of Titles with what has happened. The Registrar-General, in pursuance of the powers conferred upon him, will then be able to mark the title in some way. That is the only protection that we can give to prospective purchasers of such land. Already the Defence Act imposes certain restrictions as to -use of land; yet no suggestion has been made that the owners of the land affected shall receive compensation. 1 ask honorable senators not to disallow the statutory rule. The incidents which led. to the passing of amending legislation last March might at any time be repeated, to the detriment of our defences. The statutory rules are in the interests of safety and for the protection of Australia generally.
Question resolved in the negative.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 16th November, vide page 1459).
Clause S -
Section 35 of the principal act is repealed, and the following sections aru inserted in its stead: - 35w. ( 1 ) The savings bank may invest any moneys held by it -
Upon which Senator Lynch had moved by way of amendment- -
That after paragraph (d), sub-section 1, the following paragraph be inserted “ (dd) in advancing money for the purpose of encouraging gold mining iu the Commonwealth.”
– It is proposed to use the profits made by the savings bank for the purpose of encouraging various industries. With that, I agree, but in many instances money has been advanced for purposes for which it should not have been used. For instance, many prosperous industrial concerns have been assisted by the bank, whereas other concerns, more deserving, have had to obtain assistance in other ways. This bill proposes to increase the ti umber of purposes for which the profits of the savings bank may be utilized. Money may be advanced for the erection of warehouses or storage facilities, for the warehousing or storage or primary products. I do not know to what extent the wool growers of Australia will take advantage of that provision. They will probably find other means of financing their operations. Many other forms of primary production have already enjoyed a considerable amount of patronage from this and preceding Governments. On at least two occasions meat-producers approached the Ministry for assistance to tide them over a period of stress, and they were helped substantially. Similarly, the producers of dried fruits have received Government assistance, and now they are to get a further share .of patronage. Hopgrowers, likewise, have been helped by legislation - by the tariff and otherwise. Cotton-growers have been receiving a bounty for some years ; and as for sugar, I know of no other industry that has been helped to the same extent, and deservedly so. I always have a soft spot in my heart for the growers of sugar in the tropical belt of Queensland. I believe that they are holding that country in trust for the rest of Australia, at the expense of great physical and social disadvantages, and that, therefore, they deserve every consideration from the Government. It may be said. that we are being called upon to pay too much for our whistle, and that the industry is being helped at the expense of the consumers. I content myself with saying that the producers of sugar in tropical Australia have properly received substantial encouragement from the Commonwealth Parliament. Now they are to have further assistance in that under this measure provision is to be made to help them market their product. While all this encouragement is being given to the industries I have mentioned, and others, as well, the gold-mining industry is left out in the cold. Why has it been neglected? Why, indeed, is it singled out for repeated visits from the taxgatherer, and not as much as a single pice from the bounty dispenser? He is the only Government official that has given any attention to it. The subject has been dealt with in this chamber on many previous occasions. A year or two ago I submitted a motion inviting honorable senators to consider the position of the industry and see what could be done to keep it from dear.li by slow exhaustion. The Senate almost unanimously placed on record its opinion that something should be done to help the industry. Following that decision, members of this chamber waited upon the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) as a deputation to impress upon him the urgent need for more liberal treatment being given to it. Unfortunately, from that time to this, nothing has been done. At the risk of repetition, I propose to present the claims of the industry for consideration. During the war period, producers of gold were singled out from among all primary producers, so far as the sale of their product was concerned. They were obliged to sell it at the pre-war price, notwithstanding that, in common with other primary producers, they had. to meet rising prices for all other commodities, including the necessary machinery for the carrying on of their own enterprise. Other primary producers were in a much more fortunate position. Wool-growers received a flat rate of 15½d. That price, as Senator Guthrie knows, was a substantial increase on previous rates.
– The honorable senator is wrong there; it was the then ruling price.
– I am afraid Senator Guthrie’s memory is at fault. I remember very well that, when a cablegram was read stating that the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) had sold tlie wool clip for 15½d. the wool-growers threw their hats in the air with joy.
– Yes; that was because they feared that, as the wm: proceeded, wool might be unsaleable.
– Then the honorable senator agrees with me that the woolgrowers of Australia were placed in a very favorable position. Not so the gold producers. They had no reason to throw their hats in the air, even if they had hats to wear, at the price which they received for their product. Wheat growers also were treated most favorably. They obtained 5s. a bushel for their product - a considerable advance on previous rates, and certainly a remunerative return. If we examine the position of the minor primary industries, we find that almost without exception they have been helped in some way during .the war and since, whereas the gold producers have all along been strictly confined to pre-war prices for their product. The secretary of the Cold Producers’ Association, Mr. Maughan, has estimated that if the gold producers of Australia had had a free market, or if they were compensated for the losses which they have been obliged to suffer, they would be better in pocket today to the “extent of £3,000,000. I mention this fact to show that the industry did something for Australia during the war period - something which no other industry did or was capable of doing - stud I emphazise that nothing has been done by the Government to encourage it, either during the war or since. It is a country industry. Why are the country representatives in this Parliament so shy about saying anything for it? It is essentially a pioneering industry. When gold-mining is no longer profitable, it invariably gives way to other and more permanent forms of primary endeavour. To-day the industry is suffering from a crushing burden in the- shape of a Customs duty of 40 per cent., on the machinery necessary for mining; operations. That is a most outrageous impost. No other adjective can properly be applied ‘ to it. Many goldmining towns in Australia are little better’ than a memory now, largely because of unsympathetic treatment from this- and preceding Governments. I ask now that some1 restitution be made to the industry, so as to give it. some encouragement, be it ever so little. I trust that it will be included in the proposed new sub-section.
.- I hope the amendment will receive careful consideration at the hands of the Government. Owing to the high cost of production, the gold-mining industry is steadily declining. In 1915 the production in Australia totalled 1,946,907 ozs., valued at £8,269,936; in 1926 production had. fallen to 520,006 ozs., valued at £2,208,829. . The decrease in production in eleven years was 1,426,901 ozs., or a total value of £6,061,097. In consequence of the imposition of high customs duties on mining plant, the cost of production has been increased, and as wages are also higher, gold-mining is now a losing proposition. As the Government assisted primary production last year to the extent of over £500,000 in the form of bounties on dried fruits and other commodities, it should also assist the mining industry, a revival of which would have a very beneficial effect upon Australia. The stimulation of the industry would absorb a large number of the men who are at present unemployed. The discovery of gold and other minerals inAustralia has always attracted large numbers of migrants from all parts of the world, who, when operations were restricted, remained in the country and followed other avocations. Ballarat, Bendigo, and other such places, developed owing to the discovery of gold. A good deal of the development of Western Australia is due largely to the discovery of gold, and to the influx of population, which always follows such a discovery. Some months ago a conference, representative of all the States was held at Maldon, in Victoria, at which certain resolutions were passed with a view to submitting proposals to the Tariff Board in support of a bounty on gold. These resolutions were to the effect that if a company were making profits and paying dividends, it should not receive assistance, but that prospecting companies and syndicates endeavouring to discover new fields, should be given financial help. As the Government has allotted only £10.000 of the £25,000, which it has made available for prospecting purposes, some assistance should be given now to the gold mining industry. In a pamphlet entitled twelve reasons are given in support of a bounty on gold. From these I quote the following -
It .is important to remember that the successful development of a mining show leads to the establishment of numerous other industries. During years of great mining activity, there were in the city in which I reside, five foundries employing hundreds of men; but now that milling has declined, these foundari.es are closed and the workmen have drifted to the capital cities to increase the number of unemployed. Nothing is of greater assistance to decentralization than a revival of mining, which leads to the establishment of cities and towns, and provides work for the unemployed. In a communication to the right honorable A. Bonar Law, M.P., Chancellor of the Exchequer, from the Gold Producers’ Committee of London stated -
We believe that the augmentation 01 the supply of gold and its utility in value in our economic system is universally recognized as being of the greatest moment to the State, and it appears to us clear that, unless exceptional steps are taken in the present exceptional circumstances to help the gold producing industry, the supply already materially diminishing must inevitably suffer a further and very serious decrease.
It is universally recognized that gold is a means of stabilizing finance. America is at present importing more gold than she is exporting in order to stabilize the finances of the nation. Gold is the most valuable commodity which a nation can have at its disposal during a period of war. Fuel oil is essential, but gold i3 of even greater importance. The production of large quantities of gold would be of material help to the Commonwealth, not only in time of peace, but also in the event of war. I support Senator Lynch’s contention that the Government should assist those engaged in gold production, as the costs have been increased to a remarkable extent in consequence of the imposition of high Customs duties.
– What is gold worth at present?
– Approximately £4 an ounce. New Guinea gold is worth less. Certain commodities required in gold production have increased from 71 per cent, to 600 per cent, in consequence of the tariff. For instance, explosives have increased in price from 10 per cent, to 100 per cent. Wages have also increased by 100 per cent. Moreover, the extra cost of production cannot -be passed on as is done by the producers of other commodities. It is absolutely, essential to stabilize the gold milling industry. That, I contend, can be done only by financial help from the Commonwealth Government. If new fields are discovered the population in. country centres will increase, and the capital cities will be relieved of large numbers of unemployed. Iron foundries will also be established in towns adjacent to the fields, and work will thus be made available in other industries. Almost every industry is active when mining operations are being successfully carried out. In view of all the circumstances I trust the Government will favorably consider the amendment.
Senator GRAHAM (Western Australia [5.0]. - As the bill provides that the Commonwealth Savings Bank shall in certain circumstances render financial assistance to the producers of wool, grain, butter, cheese, meat, fish, preserved and #dried fruits, hops, cotton, sugar, and such other produce as is prescribed, surely assistance should also be given to the producers of such a valuable commodity as gold. Those responsible for drafting this sub-section have evidently overlooking the gold-mining industry, which has been of great assistance in the development of the Commo»wealth. Prior to 1896 there was a general trade depression throughout Australia; but the discovery of gold in Western Australia about that time changed the whole outlook. Thousands of men left the eastern States, and immediately found remunerative employment on the goldfields; industries began to thrive, and it was not long before large sums of money were being transmitted to the eastern States. This had a marked effect upon trade. The increase in population was also most marked, and “Western Austrialia was brought from a state approaching bankruptcy to one of great prosperity. Extensive and valuable buildings were erected on the fields, but when mining commenced to decline they were allowed to fall into a state of disrepair, and in some instances are now being demolished and carted away because gold mining there is unremunerative. In order to assist in the prosecution of the war to a successful issue the Government commandeered the whole of the gold produced in that” State, and, as mentioned by Senator Lynch, gold mining was the only industry which was not allowed to benefit by the increased prices. As the industry was not allowed, as the result of the action of the Commonwealth Government, to take advantage of increased prices, Western Australia lost over £3,000,000, whilst the loss to the industry throughout the Commonwealth was approximately £4,000,000. The sugar industry has been spoon-fed at the expense of the consumers to the extent of £3,824,000.
– How does the honorable senator arrive at that figure? ‘
– I can supply the honorable senator with the information if he so desires. Other industries have been assisted in the form of bounties and subsidies to the extent of nearly £7,000.000. Representatives of “Western Australia in this Parliament have had repeated interviews with the Prime Minister and Treasurer on this matter, but to no avail. As Senator Andrew has pointed out, if assistance is given to the gold mining industry, it will mean an influx of population. It is true that the Commonwealth has put aside £25,000 to be distributed by the States for the purpose of enabling people to prospect for gold in Australia. The smallness of the amount is an insult to the industry. No one knows better than those who have lived on gold-fields that £25,000 is a mere drop in the ocean compared with what is needed. The- amount provided could be sunk in one field and not noticed. It would not equip two good camel outfits to prospect the . interior. The position of the Western Australian mines is that the deeper they are the more refractory the ore becomes, and the more difficult to treat. It has been necessary for the mine-owners to pick out only the highest grade ore to keep their men employed. With assistance from the Commonwealth Government they could treat some of the lower grade ore at a profit, thus giving direct employment to thousands of miners, and indirect employment to thousands of others. After inspecting the different mines on the Golden Mile and in other parts of Australia, the recently appointed Development and Migration Commission recommended that the Government should put £300,000 into the industry, and that the companies operating on the Golden Mile should amalgamate in order to reduce overhead charges. In the Senate I asked the Leader of the Senate a question dealing with this recommendation, and the answer he gave me was that the £300,000 would not be paid until the mining companies had exhausted every channel in an effort to raise the money themselves. In order to raise money to equip their mines with the best machinery for the treatment of the lower grade ore the companies have already exhausted every channel, and .the Government, knowing this, should put into effect the suggestion of the Development and Migration Commission. It is my opinion that, although amalgamation of effort may reduce overhead charges, the £300,000 recommended by the commission will be barely sufficient to purchase the machinery required to enable the amalgamation to be effective. It is time honorable senators supporting the Government asked themselves whether they are doing right in letting the goldmining industry drop out of existence. It is time they came to its assistance in its hour of stress. No one knows what may happen. No one can see what lies behind 6 feet of ground. In any case, Senator Lynch’s proposal is for money to be lent to the industry, and if money is lent it will only be what was filched from the mine-owners during the war. Assistance, if granted in the form of loans, would enable small mines outside the Kalgoorlie belt to become as productive as they were prior to the war; and who is to say that one of them will not prove to be another Great Boulder, Ivanhoe, or Lake ‘ View Consols ? I regret that the Government has turned a deaf ear to every request for assistance for the gold-mining industry.
– I had hoped that, besides opening its pockets, long ere this the Government would have opened its ears to the pleading on behalf of the gold-mining industry. I do not know whether the Minister in charge of the bill intends to speak to the amendment moved by Senator Lynch, but T know that the amendment is certainly worthy of favorable and sympathetic consideration, and that no industry in the Commonwealth is more deserving of assistance than the gold-mining industry. I know of no industry that has been so badly treated. Senator Lynch and others have related the history of the continued appeals to the present Government, and its predecessors in office for assistance. They have pointed out what the industry suffered during the war, and has suffered since the war; but all their protestations have fallen on deaf ears. Instances have been given of various industries that have been and are being assisted by bounties. The original plea for assistance for the gold-mining industry was for a bounty, which I prefer to Senator Lynch’s present proposal, because it would be cheaper to the industry than the method suggested in the amendment. But realizing that our efforts to secure assistance by means of a bounty have failed, I have no hesitation in supporting Senator Lynch’s new proposal. Ministers may point to the assistance afforded by the Precious Metals Prospecting Act, which has been termed by Senator Graham an insult to those engaged in the gold-mining industry. In addition to not getting assistance in the shape of a bounty, the goldmining’ industry is sorely handicapped as a result of the tariff. Almost every time our Customs Tariff has been amended, higher and still higher duties have been imposed on mining machinery. The last increase, imposing much higher duties, hit the’ gold-mining industry very hurd, particularly the mines of Kalgoorlie, whose depth is great and ‘whose ore is low in grade. The industry’s appeal for lower duties fell on deaf ears. Gold-mininghas been described as a national industry. It is undoubtedly the forerunner of other industries. We are told that Australia’s great necessity is “ men, money and markets “. The gold-mining industry provides a very big home market. Thosewho are engaged in it, devote the whole of their time and energies to the work, but do not make goods for themselves. It attracts population to a greater extent than any migration scheme is capable of doing. It must be conceded that an unlimited quantity of virgin gold awaits discovery. Therefore, I think that the industry should be assisted in every way. I should prefer assistance to take the form of a bounty; but in the circumstances, I propose to support the amendment. Any sum that may be advanced by the savings bankwill be obtained at a cheaper rate than that at which it could be obtained from any other source.
– Is the honorable senator in favour of the savings bank advancing money for prospecting?
– The amendment suggests that it should advance money to help the gold-mining industry, which did so much for Australia during the war, and has suffered so greatly since the termination of that conflict. Again and again we have appealed for assistance by way of bounty, but our efforts have not been successful.
– I listened with a good deal of interest to the dissertation of the honorable senator on the gold-mining industry, its importance to Australia, and the effect which it has upon migration and the penetration of the continent. It is apparently intended that the amendment, which seeks to empower the savings bank to advance money to encourage gold-mining in Australia, shall be made to paragraph(d) of proposed section 35 w. It would be exceedingly dangerous to insert such a provision in this bill. The directors of the Commonwealth Bank are trustees for those who have deposited their savings in the Commonwealth Savings Bank. Much as we appreciate what the gold-mining industry has done for Australia, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that if the savings bank were to advance money for this purpose, and failed to recover it, its depositors would be the losers. That is not the kind of security that appeals to the trustees of a savings bank. The Government has already taken steps to assist the gold-mining industry, on a scale and in a manner that may prove more beneficial than this. I ask honorable senators to pause before they agree to this proposal. It would be a breach of trust on the part of the directors if they were to advance money in the form of a bounty. I fail to see in what way this could possibly benefit the industry. In view of the possible ill-effect UPOn depositors aud the credit of the bank, I ask the mover of the amendment not to press it.
– “Whilst I recognize the truth of the Minister’s statement, I candidly confess that I intend to support the amendment, not because of its inherent worth, but as a protest against the inaction of the Government towards the gold-mining industry. I appreciate the danger of any body advancing money for gold-mining purposes. There is always the risk that it will not be repaid. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the industry has done a tremendous amount of good for Australia, whilst Australia has done very little for it. As Senator Lynch has pointed out, it is the only industry that suffered during the war, and yet received no return. Its costs increased on every, hand, but it did not .benefit from a corresponding increase in- the value of the commodity produced. Senator Lynch also mentioned that the tariff on mining machinery had been increased enormously. He placed the increase as high as 40 per cent. I believe that he understated it, because on some mining machinery it was 6.0 per cent. That action was taken when it was well known that the industry was in a languishing condition, and there was a doubt as to whether it could exist even without additional burdens. We have been told that a bounty on gold is uneconomical. Admitting that it is, I submit that bounties on any other product are equally uneconomical. They can be defended only on the ground that they render assistance to industries that, are suffering from heavy costs of production, and. other factors due to the condition of world affairs. If Senator Lynch presses his amendment he will have my support.
– I did not expect so much ministerial opposition to this small morsel of comfort for the gold-mining industry. It represents less than a crumb from the overloaded table of government patronage to all other country industries. The Minister’s first point was that the amendment had not been couched in the most appropriate phraseology. That is a thin excuse. A more important objection which he raised was the risk that would be involved. Having had a great deal of experience in business affairs, does he not know that for years mining propositions the world over have been assisted by not only private banks but also State financial institutions? I have had an experience extending over a number of years, and I know that to be a fact.
– They have had securities apart from the mine. There is the personal element which guarantees security.
– The savings bank can obtain the same form of security. That which has been and is good enough for private business> ought to be good enough for this institution. The Minister says that it is not.
– Has the honorable senator ever heard of a savingsbank advancing money on mining security ?
Senator- LYNCH. - The Minister said that the management might have- some doubts as to the f oum that the encouragement should take. Those gentlemen are as well endowed with commonsense asany other body of men ; and if they were approached by the representative of a. gold-mining venture, they would see that ample security was provided for themoney advanced. The doors of both theprivate banks and the Commonwealth Bank a-re- to-day wide open to propositions of this kind. Why, then, close the doors of this- bank to- them? I can. assurethe Minister that the Commonwealth Bank has taken, a leading part in the financing of a. mining proposition in which I had an interest. Is it intended to- placeon the door of this institution a placard which reads, “ Open to all except thepioneer gold-getter ?”
– This provision will not apply to’ manufacturers.
– The list of persons and institutions which the bank may assist under this proposed section runs practically the whole gamut of rural industry. What is the use of the Minister splitting hairs in that way? All our primary industries, except the goldmining industry, may derive benefits from the new institution.
– Gold-mining is largely speculative whereas wool-growing is not.
– So far as I am concerned, everything is speculative. Any differences are only differences of degree. Why do honorable senators who are so solicitous for other primary industries refuse to grant assistance to the gold-mining industry? The Commonwealth’ Savings Bank will obtain money from depositors in mining centres, but that money must not be spent there.. The people in those centres are to be told that their savings cannot be used in their own district, but must be utilized for the encouragement of other industries elsewhere. Why this differentiation? Why should gold-mining for ever be the Cinderella of our industries? The Commonwealth Bank already assists metalliferous mining, in this country, but when the savings bank business has been separated from the general banking business, that branch will be precluded from assisting gold-mining. I should not be surprised to find on the door of the savings bank a notice intimating that a reward of £100 will be paid to any person who gives information leading to the conviction of any gold-getter who enters the bank or is found on its premises. The producers of wool, hops or wheat will be welcomed by the bank, but the gold-getter is te be warned off the premises. Senator Thompson says that gold-mining ‘ is largely speculative. What a foundation
On which to build an argument! We all know that risks are inseparable from industry of every kind.
– -Does the honorable senator suggest that the funds of the savings bank should be made available to assist prospecting?
– The way should be open to any man who discovers a mine and develops it until it produces gold in payable quantities, to obtain an increase of capital by means of advances from the savings bank and increase his credit facilities. The door should not be closed in- his face. What is the reason for preventing the funds of the savings bank from being devoted to the assistance of the gold-mining industry when the general branch of the Commonwealth Bank will continue to grant assistance to that industry?
– The bank must have some security.
– I do- not know whether Senator Payne has had any connexion with metalliferous mining companies which have obtained advances from the Commonwealth Bank. I have been associated with such companies,, and know that they have been assisted by the bank.
– The advances were made not on the security of the mine, but on personal security.
– Thousands of pounds are advanced every year to mining companies by the Commonwealth Bank, yet this new department of file institution which is to be created, ostensibly with the object of assisting Australian industries, is liotto grant assistance to the gold-mining industry, although it may help other industries. Why is the gold-mining industry to be black-balled in this way? Are the citizens engaged in it less worthy than other Australian citizens? By granting assistance to gold-mining companies, the private banks have answered the objection of Senator Thompson that gold mining is a risky business.
– If the general branch of the Commonwealth Bank will continue to grant assistance to gold-mining, what necessity will there be for the savings bank to do the same?
– A large proportion of the bank’s assets will be taken from it by the separation of the savings bank business. A practice which obtains in one section of the bank should be followed and continued in connexion with all its activities. Although I am seeking only a morsel of relief for a deserving industry, my appeal apparently falls on deaf ears. The responsibility, however, is not mine, but that of the Government and those who, in all circumstances, follow its lead. Why put the gold miner in the coal cellar while other citizens recline in comfort? The pioneer gold-getter should be treated in the same way that other citizens are treated. I ask for no more and no less. How different would be the attitude of the Government towards the gold-mining industry if, instead of having no direct representative in this Parliament, it was” represented by a solid phalanx of, say, ten members. In that case, instead of refusing every request made on behalf of the industry, the Government would be asking in what further directions it could help, and what additional favours it could bestow. Yes, if the industry had the numbers, what a different spectacle we should have. What a change would come o’er the spirit of the dream. On’ a previous occasion, when the Senate was considering the condition of the gold-mining industry, honorable senators generally agreed that it should be assisted. Here is a chance to do something in that direction. Here is a chance for it to stand to its former word. Honorable senators should insist on funds of the savings bank being made available to assist the gold-mining industry. The meat producer, who has already received two bounties from the Government, may go to the savings bank for assistance under this proposed section, yet the gold miner who goes farther afield than the meat producer, is to be debarred from receiving the same assistance. Why should he be prosecuted? If that is justice, then my conception of the term is decidely warped. I leave the matter in the hands of the Senate, believing that it will, as on a former occasion, agree that something should be done to assist the gold-mining industry. On the occasion referred to, the Leader of the Government in this chamber said that he regarded the vote as an indication that something substantial should be done for the industry. But what has been done since then?
The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– Senator Lynch’s statement that the goldmining industry has been persecuted isunwarranted. We should consider this bill from the viewpoint of business men. Particularly should we have regard to the source of the funds at the disposal of thesavings bank. Those funds should be invested with the greatest caution. There are already other channels through which the gold-mining industry,- if it can offer satisfactory security, may receive assistance. I take it that the honorable senator does not suggest that advancesshall be made without proper security. The general business of the Commonwealth Bank, and that of private tradingbanks, is conducted with money invested by shareholders who, in the hope of making profit’s, are prepared to take some risks. That is not the position in the case of the funds of the savings bank. Those funds represent the savings of thepeople. Proposed section 35v setsout the directions “ in which the savings bank may invest its funds. Honorable senators will see that in each instance advances are tobe made on security of a suitable character. For instance, advances may be made in respect of any Government security approved by the Treasurer. That would be a sound investment. Again, land may be taken as security for advances. That is a well-recognized form of security. Money may also he advanced for the purchase or erection of dwelling houses, and for the discharge of mortgages on dwelling houses, in accordance with the Government’s housing scheme. The bank is authorized to advance money for the erection of warehouses or storage facilities for primary productsincluding the erection of plant for the treatment, preservation and preparation of products for marketing. It, is provided further that it may invest money in debentures issued by the CommonwealthBank for the purposes- of its rural credits department- or on fixed deposit with the Commonwealth Bank, or “ in any other prescribed manner.” This last provision is embodied in the principal act. No savings bank has ever embarked on the business of lending money to encourage gold mining, or any other similar industry. We should treat t he savings of the people as a sacred trust, and hitherto they have been so regarded. I admit that the gold mining industry has done a great deal to promore the development of Australia; but having regard to the fact that it is a speculative enterprise, it would not be in the best interests o£ the Commonwealth to authorize the savings bank to risk moneys held by it for the encouragement of that industry. The Commonwealth Bank is empowered to do that and I understand that certain private trading banks are prepared to take much greater risks with their fuuds than would be justified by any trustee institution such as the savings bank.
– The amendment moved by Senator Lynch means that the funds of the savings bank, which consist largely of the savings of the poorer sections of the people, may be advanced by the bank for the assistance of the gold mining industry. We should not forget that it is an extremely speculative enterprise. If it is to be assisted in this way, why not make similar provision also for other forms of mining, including lead, silver, copper and iron? The savings bank is a public financial institution, and its funds should not be jeopardized in the manner proposed.
– But the Commonwealth Bank has already made advances to assist gold mining.
– I have had some experience in the industry. For some time I was Minister for Mines in Tasmania, in a government that set out to assist the mining industry. It advanced altogether about £25,000 to various companies, and I think I am safe in saying that only about 5 per cent. of that sum was returned to the State. The enterprise is a hazardous one because whenever a mine gets into difficulties, any security which it might have been able to offer to a bank against an advance is practically lost.
– Did the honorable senator, when Minister for Mines in Tasmania, expect to have the money returned ?
– Certainly; it was a business transaction. Does Senator Lynch suggest that a government has no right to expect the return of money advanced to assist any particular industry? I object already to the powers given to the board under this bill. I do not regard advances for the erection of warehouses and for storage facilities as a sound investment for a savings bank. Certainly . I cannot support the amendment submitted by Senator Lynch. If we allowed the savings of the people to be advanced for the assistance of speculative industries like that of mining, we should be doing what honorable senators opposite have charged the Government with doing - attempting to destroy the Commonwealth Bank.
– The Commonwealth Bank is already doing what I am proposing shall be done by the savings bank.
– As a trading bank, yes.
– I shall oppose any proposal to jeopardise the savings of the people in such an unsound investment as gold mining. It is the function of the State to assist mining, and all funds set apart for this purpose should come from the public revenue. I doubt if Senator Lynch can cite one instance of a trading bank risking its funds in this way.
– The Minister just said that the Commonwealth Bank isdoing so.
– If that is true, thenit is news to me. But can the honorablesenator mention any private trading bank that is making advances to assist mining?
-Yes, the Queensland National Bank.
– The Commonwealth Bank was not prepared to finance the Wallaroo and Moonta mining company.
– And no bank will finance the Mount Morgan Company in its present position. It would be possible, of course, for a company like the Mount Lyell Company, with its railway. its superphosphate works and other assets, to obtain an advance; but the position of the ordinary mining company, whose only security is machinery and poppet legs on the mine, is entirely different. If anything goe3 wrong with such a mine, its assets practically disappear. No sensible business naan would’ think of making an advance on that class of security.
– The West Australian Bank has done so repeatedly.
– That bank, like any other, would require a personal guarantee.
– Or it might make an advance against the uncalled capital of the company.
– We may he sure that any bank that made an advance against a mining proposition would require a joint and several guarantee.
– I know, to my sorrow, that the West Australia Bank made an advance to a mining company, because it sold up my share interest in that company.
– Then, it is obvious that the bank had to take action to recover its money. I hope that the savings of the people will never be invested in that way.
.- I should not have risen but for the fact that Senator Lynch questioned the accuracy of an interjection which I made while he was speaking. He stated positively that all trading banks, including the Commonwealth Bank, were prepared to advance money to assist the mining industry;. I say definitely that no bank will risk its funds in such ventures unless it also has additional security in the way of personal guarantees. Senator Lynch knows as well as any other honorable senator that if a mine fails, its assets-, in the form of machinery, which might have cost £500,000, in some circumstances may not realize more than about, one-tenth of the original cost. I am surprised that the honorable senator should seriously suggest that the savings of the people should be made available for investments of that nature. I do not wish to say anything in opposition to reasonable proposal to encourage the gold mining industry. I sincerely hope that it will have every encouragement, but on the right lines. If, as the honorable senator has stated, existing financial institutions, including the Commonwealth Bank, are prepared to assist the industry, why has he submitted this amendment, the object of which is to make available the funds of the savings bank?
– Because this bill takes over. £40,000,000 away from the control of the, trading section of the Commonwealth Bank.
– It is essential that 40 per cent. of the funds of the bank should be reserved for the exclusive use of the savings bank branch. In making advances for the encouragement of mining the Commonwealth Bank does not encroach upon the savings bank funds. These advances are, I believe, obtained from the trading section of the bank.
– Apparently the honorable senator has not had much experience in this branch of the business.
– I have had as much experience as the honorable senator, and can display as much commonsense as he can on questions of this kind. We are here primarily to see that the people receive the protection to which they are entitled, and I shall never assist in the direction of the people’s savings being utilized in the manner proposed in the amendment.
– Senator Payne believes that the Commonwealth Government should assist the gold-mining industry, but is doubtful as to the method which should be adopted. Ever since I have been a member of the Senate I have been endeavouring to ascertain what, in the opinion of the Government, is the proper method of assisting the industry.
– Low-grade ores and high costs of production are responsible for the difficult problem confronting the industry.
– The honorable senator has little to say concerning high costs when the production of sugar or bananas is under consideration. The Government is being asked to assist, not doubtful mining ventures, but only wellestablished mining companies, which are asking for a bounty on 6-dwt. dirt - equivalent to 12s. a ton - which would enable the companies to carry on. Whoever assists the industry financially will not incur any risk. For the information of the committee, I quote the following from a pamphlet issued by the Chamber of Mines, Kalgoorlie: -
In 1923 the total population of the Commonwealth was 5, 749,807: the total Commonwealth taxes per head of population were £8.0. the total production per head of population was £67.8: and total exports per head were £19.9. The population of Western Australia was 353,815; the total State taxes per head were £2.7 ; the total production per head was £70.1’, and the value of exports of primary products per head was £27.3. In this State the gold production amounted to £2,105,483, from 781,769 tons of ore treated; and the number of men employed in producing it was 5,347. The gold-fields towns of this State are practically isolated, and it is, therefore, easy to learn what is the proportion of people who live in the neighbourhood of the mines, and depend for their livelihood upon the mines, as compared with the number of men actually working on the mines. We find that the proportion is, at least, six to one. If wo multiply 5.347 by six the result is 32,082. The value of the State’s gold production, divided by this figure shows a production of £65.6 per head for the year.
The pamphlet goes on to show the quantity of wheat and wool produced in that State, and also the value of the gold won. If the Government is honest in its desire to assist the industry, it should find a way out of the present difficulty.
– If the honorable senator believes that the industry should be encouraged why did he support higher duties on mining machinery?
– I did not do so. The records will show that every vote I have recorded in this chamber, directly or indirectly, has been in support of the gold-mining industry.
– Is it a fact that the ore in the mines is of too low a grade to be mined at a profit?
– No. In the absence of a bounty the companies will be compelled to extract only the best ore in order to make both ends meet. I am anxious to know the manner in which the Government proposes to assist the industry, and I trust that before this amendment is disposed of, we shall have some information on this point from the Minister in charge of the bill.
Sitting suspended from 6.14 to 8 p.m.
Connexion with New South Wales Railway System.
Debate resumed from 13th October (vide page 492), on motion by Senator Thomas.
That, in the opinion of this Senate, the Federal Government should enter into negotiations with the Governments of New South Wales and South Australia to link up the East-West Railway with the New South Wales railway system, via Broken Hill or Hay.
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL (South Australia) [8.0]. - I hope that honorable senators will not support this motion. A few weeks ago, when I waa speaking on a similar motion brought before the Senate by Senator Foll, asking us to express the opinion that a railway should be constructed for the purpose of linking up the Barkly Tableland with the railway systems of Queensland and New South Wales, I pointed out that it was not the proper procedure to ask the Senate to express approval of a proposition of that kind. I pointed out that the procedure to be followed in the caseof works costing more than £25,000 was laid down in the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act. Section 15 of that act provides that no public work, the estimated cost of which exceeds £25,000, can be commenced unless certain steps are taken. First of all, the proposition has to be submitted and explained by a Minister in the House of Representatives. In his explanation the Minister must give estimates of cost and probable revenue, and he must submit plans and specifications and reports of experts as to the probable cost of construction and maintenance. After that explanation has been given, not in the Senate, but in the House of Representatives, it is for the members of the House of Representatives to say whether, in their opinion, the proposition is one that should be submitted to the Public Works Committee for investigation. If they decide that it is, an inquiry is held by the’ committee, and the committee furnishes both Houses with a report upon the project. Upon the presentation of that report, the House of Representatives, and not the Senate, decides either that it is expedient to carry out the work or that it is not expedient to do so. If it decides that it is expedient to carry out the work, the Government introduces in the House of Representatives a bill to authorize its construction, and when the bill passes the House of Representatives it comes to the Senate. That is the procedure to be followed before any section of Parliament is asked to express an opinion upon any proposed construction. But Senator Thomas is asking the Senate to express the definite opinion that a line to link up the East-West railway with the New South Wales system, via Broken Hill or Hay, is necessary, and should be built. It would be absolutely wrong for the Senate to express such an opinion without being given any particulars upon which to come to a decision. All we have before us is the speech of Senator Thomas, in which no reasons are advanced for the building of the line beyond the advantage to be gained by having a uniform gauge between Kalgoorlie and Brisbane.
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL.That is the honorable senator’s whole case. It seems to be quite sufficient for him to ask the Senate to consent to the expenditure of millions of pounds to get a uniform gauge between the points I have mentioned. He has not even said whether either- of the routes he suggests is preferable to other routes that have been suggested. He has given us no particulars with regard to the probable cost or probable revenue. He has not told us whether the line is likely to pay interest on cost of construction or working expenses, or even a fraction of* them. He has not given us any particulars as to what the goods traffic is likely to be. He has not told us what goods traffic passes through Port Augusta or how many passengers would be benefited by the new line. He has given us no quotation from reports. We have simply his own statement that the line is desirable inasmuch as it will overcome the break of gauge difficulty by establishing a. uniform gauge between Kalgoorlie and Brisbane. If the honorable senator had any other reasons to advance in support of his proposal he would have given them. The Senate has nothing before it to show that there is any traffic or economic reason for the construction of this line.
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL.I shall give cogent reasons why the line should not be built. I can quote from the reports of the railway commissioners of Victoria and South Australia., men of high standing in the railway world. In both cases their reports are unconditionally condemnatory of the proposition of the honorable senator. There is a bill now before another place for the construction of a 4 ft. S-i in. gauge line from Port Augusta to Red Hill. That bill is the result of an agreement arrived at between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of South Australia. It provides for the construction of a 4 ft. 8’£ in. line from Port Augusta to Red Hill, and for the laying of a third rail from Red Hill to Adelaide, to enable the east-west train to run on the 4 ft. in. gauge right through from Kalgoorlie to Adelaide. It is, as a matter of a fact, part of a scheme for unifying the whole of the railway gauges; or at least minimising the existing break of gauge difficulties. The line proposed by the honorable senator would not pay a fraction of 1 per cent, interest on the cost of construction, or more than a small fraction of working expenses. It would not develop any country that is not served at the present time by existing facilities. It is true that it would go near the Murray A7” alley. But the Murray Valley settlers are already served by South Australian and Victorian railways, and partly “by the river itself. As time goes on there will be a deep-sea port at the mouth of the Murray to deal with all the traffic that comes down the river. For most of the way, the proposed railway would pass through very poor pastoral country with ‘a. light rainfall. Last year 2,508 tons of goods passed through Port Augusta. The South Australian Railway Commissioner could shift the whole of that tonnage in two train loads. In a moment or two I shall quote from the commissioner’s report the tonnage for other years, hut the average is about 2,500 tons. The average number of passengers passing through .Port Augusta on the cast-west railway for the past seven- years is 65 per train. There are three trains a week each way. On arriving at Port Augusta, the passengers have already been on the train for three days and three nights, and it is no hardship for them to transfer to another train.
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL.This line would certainly reduce the time occupied in journeying between Perth and Sydney or Brisbane, but to what purpose if there are neither the goods nor the passengers for Sydney or Brisbane? It is said that it would bo a fine railway if we had 3,000 miles of a uniform gauge; but mere mileage does not make a great railway. The honorable senator who moved this motion gave us no information and did not quote from any reports; he contented himself with the bald statement that this scheme would provide for a line of uniform gauge. I shall state the points that have a direct bearing on the matter, and, for that purpose, quote from, reports that were made by the Chief Commissioner to the Minister of Railways in South Australia preparatory to the Premiers’ Conference that was held in 1923. Reporting on the proposal that the Commonwealth Government should construct a line from Port Augusta to Hay, he said -
A careful study of the movement of traffic in South Australia aud Western Australia fails to disclose any commercial necessity, at the present time, for the construction of this railway, nor is it possible to imagine any development of business which will change the already well-established commercial channels. The present interstate movement, through Port Augusta, in both directions is infinitesimal : the figures for the past three years have been as follows -
Those were the latest figures then available. I am able to bring them up to date -
The report continues -
The passenger traffic interchanged at Port Augusta approximates 65 passengers per train, three days per week, in each direction, and this traffic can be reduced at any time at the pleasure of the steamship companies.
A report, which he furnished only the other day, showed that for the seven-year period the average was still 65 passengers per train. I again quote from the 1923 report -
Small as these actual returns are for goods and passengers, they are made possible by the frequent stoppages of the steamships by strikes and other causes. The new construction proposed has no power whatever to increase either the freight or passenger business, as above outlined. The routes proposed for the new construction through the State of South Australia will not open up any country that is not possible of development through the present activities of your State; there would be no local development within the State’s limits.
Later on he stated -
The construction of this line from the eastern border of your State to Renmark, through Renmark territory to a point near Morgan, thence in a general north-westerly direction to Crystal Brook, and on to Port Augusta, will create intersection points with a number of your lines of railways. The federal line would probably handle only a very small percentage of your total traffic, but they would have the power to reduce your rates almost at will, and to disturb the entire business structure of your State. It is difficult to understand what are the real motives of the advocates of this new line. There is nojustification for it to be found in the present or future traffic of the State or Commonwealth. There is no possible hope for its paying any part of the interest on its cost, and only an infinitesimal part of its working costs. These facts arc clearly apparent.
The Commonwealth Government states “This would give a railway of uniform gauge between Brisbane and Fremantle, from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, a distance of 3,040 miles, and one entitled to rank with the greatest railway systems of the world.”
The report continues -
It takes more than rails, sleepers and mileage to make a great railway system, and the large expenditure for the construction of a railway through a part of the country where local development can never support the railway, and between terminal points that can; never produce through business to support it, cannot be classed as a great constructiveundertaking, but could only be regarded as a colossal blunder and a profligate waste of thepublic’s money.
It is impossible to find any economic necessity for the proposed railway, and the suggestion should be definitely and finally rejected. first, because there is no economic necessity; second, because there is no developmental feature possible in connexion with the construction; third, because there will probably never be developed any local or other business in sufficient volume to pay even a small part of the interest on the cost; fourth, because the proposal in no sense approaches the solution of the break in gauge problems.
Honorable senators must admit the soundness of Mr. Webb’s reasoning. The proposed line cannot be built without the consent of the Government of South Australia. That consent will never be forthcoming. South Australia will not agree to the construction of a railway from Port Augusta to Renmark and thence to Hay. I agree with Mr. .Webb that the construction of such a line would be a profligate waste of public money.
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL.Yes, if they serve a useful purpose; but I repeat that any good country through which the proposed railway would pass is already served by existing railways. For that reason there is no need for the line proposed by Senator Thomas. Certain sections of the press have stated that I am opposed to the unification of our railway gauges. That is not so. It is true that in 1921, when I was Premier of South A ustralia, a proposal to unify the railway gauges of Australia was rejected by the
State Premiers. That decision was justified, seeing that the work was estimated to cost £100,000,000. In what position would Australia be now had the State Premiers of that time agreed to the proposal? Honorable senators will agree that they did right in rejecting it. Nor should we be justified in spending now the large sum. of money which would be necessary to unify the gauges of our main trunk, lines. The most, that we can do in the present state of our finances is to minimize the disadvantages arising from our several gauges. So far as the line from Adelaide to Port Augusta is concerned, that can -be done with the expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money. I agree that something should be done to remove the disabilities caused by the break of gauge on the main line between Melbourne and Sydney. For the reasons that I have stated, I ask honorable senators not to support the motion.
– I do not intend to deal at length with the merits of the line referred to in the motion moved by Senator Thomas. I wish rather to explain the attitude of the Commonwealth Government towards the general question of the unification of the gauges of the main lines of railway connecting the various State capitals. The Government has already taken practical steps to minimize the inconvenience and loss caused by the breaks of gauge on the main trunk lines. Senator Barwell referred to the report of a Royal Commission appointed by the Commonwealth Government in 1920. In 191S, prior to the appointment of that commission, a proposal to construct a railway from Port Augusta to Broken Hill was considered by the Government of the day. The then Prime Minister made it clear that while his Government was opposed to that line, it was prepared to consider the construction of a line from Port Augusta to Hay. In 1923. the present Government placed before a conference of State Premiers and others a proposal for the construction of a line between those two points, and also for a line from Kyogle to Brisbane. The proposal received little support, apart from that accorded to it by the representatives of
Nev South Wales and Queensland. Subsequently, an agreement was entered into between the Commonwealth Government and the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland for the construction of the Grafton to South Brisbane railway, which work is now in hand. Honorable senators “are probably aware that a bill to provide for the construction of a railway of 4 ft. Si in. gauge, from Port Augusta to Red Hill, and also for the laying of a third rail from Red Hill to Adelaide is now before another place. When the work now in hand has been completed there will be but one break of gauge between Brisbane aud Adelaide. During recent years several 5 ft. 3 in. gauge railways have been extended from Victoria across the border into New South Wales, aud are now serving some of the country which the proposed line from Port Augusta to Hay was expected ro serve. To build a line from Port Augusta now would be to duplicate, to some extent, the existing services. While the Commonwealth Government is prepared to consider any practical proposal for the unification of the gauges of the trunk line connecting the various State capitals, it must be remembered that its commitments in connexion with the unification of railway gauges and other railway expenditure are already very heavy. The following figures indicate the position : -
The Commonwealth is advancing the total amount in respect of the Grafton to South- Brisbane railway, and the capital cost is to be a definite charge on the line. That railway will pass through country altogether different from that which, according to Senator Barwell, would be traversed by the line suggested by Senator Thomas. It is expected that the passenger and freight traffic will be heavy, as the line will serve the rich northern rivers district in New South Wales. Under the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales and Queensland, the profits derived from the line will be applied first of all to payment of the interest which the Commonwealth has to find on behalf of the States of Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria, then to payment of the interest for which the States of Queensland and New South Wales are responsible, and finally, if the revenue is sufficient, to the payment of interest on one-fifth of the cost which the Commonwealth itself is providing. Senator Thomas did not indicate whether the expenditure to be incurred in constructing the line which he i3 advocating should, in his opinion, be shared by all the States, or whether it should be borne only by New South Wales and South Australia. I presume, however, that his idea is that it should be shared only by the two States mentioned, together with the Commonwealth, inasmuch as his motion proposes that the Commonwealth should convene a conference with representatives of those two States. For the reasons which I have given the Government cannot accept the motion, and I hope honorable senators will vote against it.
Debate (on motion by Senator Duncan) adjourned.
Proposed Railway to Barkly Tableland
Debate resumed from 29th September (vide page 84) on motion by Senator Foll -
[S.50]. - I do not propose to debate the merits of the railway which Senator Foll is advocating. My intention is merely to state the view of the Government with reference to the motion. I wish it to be clearly understood that the Government is not expressing any opinion as to the merits of the projected line. We have appointed a North Australia Commission, and the primary duty of the Commonwealth in regard to direct railway construction is in respect to the territory which is under its control. Parliament, when it authorized the appointment of the North Australia Commission, directed that body to consider the best means to develop that territory, and instructed it to outline a works programme, to be spread over, a period of five years, which, in its opinion would best serve to that end. That obviously means that it must take into consideration the question of roads and railway construction within the territory itself, as well as railway communication with other portions of Australia. There can be no doubt that the commission, in the course of its inquiry, will consider the linking up of the railway system in North Australia with railways in the other States. Members of that body have for the last twelve months been traversing the Territory for the purpose of becoming conversant with its requirements. It is anticipated that their report will be presented at an early date. Since the development of that portion of Australia is the direct responsibility of the Commonwealth it is desirable, before any action is taken, that we should have the report of the commission before us. The commission may recommend the railway suggested by Senator Foll. In that event the Government will take its recommendation into consideration as a question of policy, and determine how best to give effect to it. In the circumstances honorable senators will, I think, agree that the Government could not be expected, at this stage, to commit itself to approval of the motion. I may say, however, that I am one of those who believe that if this country is going to be held and developed by the white races we must give our endorsement to a vigorous policy of internal railway construction. We must not be guided solely by such considerations as whether a proposed line will pay working expenses and interest on capital expenditure. Such a policy may be safe, financially, but we may have to pay a terrible price for it in the years to come. We cannot afford to leave the vast interior of this country unoccupied, and certainly we cannot afford to leave the great north of Australia unpeopled. I am afraid that people living in our capital cities do not realize the immense value of these internal developmental railways. Let me give an illustration of their value. Some time ago a pastoralist from Queensland called on me at the Home and Territories Department and asked to be put in touch with the land officer of that department, his desire being to take up territory in North Australia. I complied with his request and had the satisfaction of learning subsequently that he had taken up a considerable area in the interior of Northern Australia. I may add that the gentleman in question owns a large cattle station in ‘ Queensland. I did not see him again for a couple of years. Unfortunately during that time that portion of Queensland in which his station is situated was stricken with drought, and when I saw him again he informed me that whilst his cattle were dying on his Queensland property, there was abundance of grass on his holding in Northern Australia. He added that if there had been internal railway communication it would have been possible for him not only to save every head of stock on his Queensland station by railing them to his holding in North Australia, but, in addition, to fatten them as well as many more there. With internal railway communication and ports of shipment there, the wealth thus lost would have been saved to Australia. That man’s experience may be cited as typical of that of many other pastoralists in Queensland recently, when an enormous number of sheep and cattle were lost owing to drought conditions. I understand, however, that considerable numbers of sheep were successfully transferred by other means from drought ureas in Queensland to North Australia, where there was abundant pasturage. I therefore deprecate the opinions that are sometimes voiced that the question of the building of internal railways must be determined by their direct earning capacity. It is not reasonable to expect such railways at the outset to pay interest on capital and working expenses; in many instances, however, it will not be many years before they will not only do that, but also encourage people to settle in areas that are at present unoccupied. I well remember as a boy being taught geography from maps which depicted great areas in the central portion of Australia as vast deserts, and yet I have lived to see not only those, but other areas, occupied by a thriving aud prosperous population. I have lived to see some of those areas come into active use. It is not so long since all the country between the Murray River and the South Australian border, with the exception of Mount Gambier, was shown on the maps as a vast desert. Nearly the whole of that country has since been opened up by railways, and some of it, notably Pinnaroo, near the South Australian border, is now regarded as amongst the richest wheat-growing land in that State. I understand that some of the improved farms in that district now realize from .£10 to £12 an acre. I have visited the interior of Australia, and have also seen the desert areas of the Western States of America, and I can say, without fear of contradiction, thai I have never seen in Australia anything so hopeless as the alkali plains of the Arizona desert. If the arguments that have been advanced in. some instances against railway construction in Australia had been employed in America, the lines which stretch across that vast country would never have been built, because it would have been said that they would, traverse desert country from which notraffic could be expected. I have alsotravelled for two days and three nightsacross the great Gobi desert in Siberia.. Although the Russians are not regarded, as an enterprising people, they built a. railway across that desert to connect Eastern Siberia with Russia.
– If the proposal had come before the South Australian Commissioner he would have turned it down.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.And many other people would have done the same. In railway construction proposals we must, of course proceed cautiously. We must be quite sure that the route determined upon is the best one, because once a railway is put down it is there for all time. The question of the route to be followed by a line linking up the north with the more populous centres will require careful consideration, and in the light of the fact that we shall shortly have a report from the North Australia Commission, I ask Senator Poll not to press his motion. The Government does not condemn the proposal embodied in it. It is willing to sympathetically consider it, but suggests that it should not be pressed at this juncture. The Government does not think the Senate should be asked to commit itself to a definite route, until the report to which I have -referred is received, when the Government will bring forward its proposals. If these do not meet with the approval of honorable senators, Parliament will have an opportunity of reviewing the whole situation.
– Will “the proposals of the North Australian Commission be submitted to the Government before any action is taken.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The act provides that the commission shall first of all submit a scheme showing the developmental works it proposes to undertake over a period of five years, and also submit a programme of works to be undertaken for the first year of that period. When this is done the Government, if it approves of the scheme, will ask Parliament to vote the necessary money, for the work which the, commission proposes to carry out.
– What steps will the Govern ment take to see that any railways constructed in the Northern Territory connect with existing railway systems?
– That is what the Government has to consider. I should say that it is unthinkable that any body of men considering a railway system for North Australia would not take into consideration existing railway services in other States and look into the question of how that scheme would ultimately join up with them, until the Government receives the report of the commission, however, I do not think the Senate would be wise in expressing an opinion on any particular route. The Government does not condemn the proposal or say that it is unjustified, or unworthy of investigation ; that it merely says the Senate should not commit itself to an expression of an opinion until it has before it the report of the North Australia Commission which was appointed by Parliament.
– I was pleased to hear the sympathetic expressions of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Pearce) concerning Senator Poll’s motion, and it seems to me that since it is after all little more than the expression of a pious hope the Government might very well accept it. This, to me, is an old subject. It take3 my memory back vividly to the days when we had as Premier of Queensland a Scotsman named Kidston, whose breadth of vision was equalled only by that of the late Sir Thomas Mcllwraith. Mr. Kidston held the idea that a line starting from Camooweal, going south-east to Dajarra, on the extreme west of the Townsville line, through Spring Vale, which is west of Longreach, to a point near Windorah, south-west of Blackall, thence to Eromanga and Tobermorey, south-west from Charleville, and thence to the border of New South Wales, would be the most suitable.
– The loss on such a line would be £3,000,000 instead of £2,000,000.
– I do not think : the loss would be anything like what Senator Sampson imagines.’ About the time Mr. Kidston put forward this scheme, which by the way was held up owing to paucity of funds, the late Lord Forrest, who was then Treasurer of the Commonwealth, visited Rockhampton At that time the north-south railway was receiving the close and careful consideration of the Commonwealth Government. I was then president of the Chamber of Commerce, and Lord Forrest discussed this matter very freely and fully with me and other citizens of Rockhampton. His idea was that if a railway from the Northern Territory were taken to Camooweal, and thence through the Queensland border into Bourke in New South Wales, it would provide an excellent means of developing the Northern Territory. I believe that had Lord Forrest and the Government of which he was a member remained in power that line would have been constructed instead of the northsouth railway, to which, unfortunately, to my mind, the Commonwealth is committed. In discussing this subject, Senator Barwell made one sound contribution - I think it was the only one he did make - to the debate, and that was in regard to the financial aspect of this proposal. His remarks in that connexion were borne out by the subsequent statement of the honorary Minister (Senator Crawford).
– Then the honorable senator does not approve of what the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Pearce) said?
– The Honorary Minister pointed out the difficulties with which the Commonwealth is confronted in finding moneys for railways projects, and Senator Pearce also stressed the same point. The financial difficulty seems at present to be insuperable; but an expression of opinion from the Senate as to what ought to be done in the future, should be useful I am glad to have the assurance of the Minister (Senator Pearce) that the North Australia Commission is now engaged in preparing recommendations for submission to the Government with regard to a railway system which will best serv& the Northern Territory. I heard the ‘other day that three parties of surveyors were at work, and I feel sanguine that the recommendation of the commission will be in favour of this scheme. The advantages of such a railway have been stressed so much and so ably by the Minister that I do not intend to do more than touch upon them. During my life there have been two very severe droughts in Queensland. One of these, unfortunately, we are experiencing at present; the other occurred in the years 1901 and 1902. Had there been railway communication in existence between Queensland and the Northern Territory during those two droughts, millions of sheep and hundreds of thousands of cattle would have been saved. I think I arn correct in saying that droughts are almost unknown in the Northern Territory; but, unfortunately, that is not the case in Queensland. If stock can be transferred at a critical period to other districts where good feed is obtainable, their lives can be saved, and they can be returned when better conditions prevail. The importance of this railway scheme from a defence point of view has been stressed by abler soldiers than myself. It is obvious that a railway from the north through the cast would be very useful. It has been suggested that an enemy is> not likely to land on the barren coast of far North Queensland; but it could establish a good sea base there, and that, after all, is one of the first considerations in military strategy. An energetic and virile enemy with command of the sea could establish a base there aud eventually over-run the country. If, however, an enemy landed on our northern coast, and a line such as I have suggested were iu existence, troops could be rushed from the main centres of population on the coast. Commencing at Townsville, troops could -be picked up there and also at Rockhampton, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, and eventually Melbourne, and rushed to the point of danger. Such an advantage could not be obtained from the north-south line. By means of that’ line troops could be brought only from Adelaide, and not from the more populous centres of the eastern States. From the1 defence view- point, therefore, the route I advocate is very desirable.- In common with the Minister, I have had recently an opportunity to confer with a large pastoralist from the Northern Territory, who asked me what the Commonwealth Government were doing in the matter of railways to serve the Northern Territory. I informed him that it was committed to the construction of a north-south line, to which he replied, “ That is a great mistake.” He was afraid, he said, that in the days to come it would be a blot upon the reputation of this Government, of which some of us are very proud. He further said that the line itself would l»c a white elephant, would result in the loss of a tremendous amount of money, and would damn for ever whatever good reputation the Government had. On the other hand, he considered a line to the south-east would enable stock to be transferred in the manner I have suggested, and would also enable the marketing of cattle in a way which is not at present possible. The Lakes Creek meatworks, which have interests . in the Northern Territory, bring their cattle all the way by road to Longreach, and then rail them to Rockhampton. By the time they reach that point they have fallen off considerably in condition, and have to be pastured for a long time before they are fit for slaughter. With proper railway communication with the Northern Territory, they could be brought .down to the coast, kept for a short period on good feed, and then dealt with as “fats.” This pastoralist submitted a recommendation to me - it is not new, I believe it was made in another place - to the effect that even at this juncture the Government should confer with the South Australian Government as to whether the construction of the northsouth railway should not be stopped. He said that if that were done, two alternatives could be considered. The first was that instead of a railway, a good road should be constructed between the two existing railway systems; that he thought would serve the purpose for many years. The second alternative was that failing an agreement on that point, adequate compensation should be paid to the South Australian Government in lieu of the construction of the line. As this gentleman has had considerable experience in the Northern Territory and Queensland, he can speak with intimate knowledge of the whole subject. I tender his advice to the Government for what it is worth, even though it may unfortunately be too late for serious attention to be given to it. In the meantime, I think an expression of opinion from the Senate would be helpful to the North Australia Commission in arriving at a recommendation which it will have later to submit to the Government. In the hope that it will be, I support the motion, although it will rest with the mover to say whether he will withdraw it or allow it to go to a vote.
– - I agree with the opinion expressed by Senator Thompson that a railway should be constructed from Bourke through Queensland to the Northern Territory, as such a line would serve some of the finest cattle country in Australia, and country infinitely better than that to be served by the north-south. railway. That line will never be of much use even from a military viewpoint. We can never move troops over it, and it will run through poor, miserable country. One of the highest pastoralists in Australia, who has taken the trouble to go through that country, tells me that it is the poorest he has ever seen. I understand that immediately beyond Bourke some engineering difficulties may be expected, because of the flooding of rivers, but I am assured by men who have lived in the country through which the Bourke to North Australia line would pass, that it is the cream of the pastoral areas of Australia. It would be easy to extend the existing Queensland railways to link with a line running north from Bourke. A 4 ft.8½ in. railway from Bourke to some point on the Gulf of Carpenteria or Darwin would enable us to move troops without any break of gauge, from Albury and any other part of New South Wales to the northern terminus of the line. The country through which which the line Avould pass has for years been the breeding ground for Australian cattle, and if even part of this railway had been built, Australia would not have suffered its recent huge losses of stock. Queensland stock would be made absolutely secure from drought if this projected railway were constructed and linked up with the existing State lines.
– Does the honorable senator suggest the building of a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge railway?
– I would not put down a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge railway there.
– But the honorable senator is suggesting that the line should be linked up with existing Queensland railways which are built on a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge.
– The proposed line would be running north and south, whereas the Queensland railways run east and west.
– With different gauges there would be considerable transhipment.
– That difficulty could not be overcome, but we should have a 4 ft. 8½ in. gauge railway running from Albury via Bourke to some point on the north coast.
– The motion seems to be a little indefinite.
– It does to the honorable senator, because it does not propose a line to go through South Australian country, which would not feed a crow! It is useless to try to prescribe a direct route. Experts will report on the route the line should take, but in any case it must pass through beautiful land in the Northern Territory, which will grow* something for Australia, and through some of the finest country ‘ of Australia in the western part of Queensland. If South Australia wants to get railway connexion with the Northern Territory, it can be obtained by running a line from a point on the existing Oodnadatta railway to Bouilia. A 3 ft. 6 in. gauge, or even a 2 feet gauge line would be sufficient for that purpose. The honorable senator need not worry about having uniformity in the gauge. In his time he will not see a uniform gauge in Australia. The best course for the Commonwealth to pursue is to pay no attention to the demands of Victoria in this respect, but to build a railway from
Port Augusta to Broken Hill which would give a 4 ft.8½ in. gauge railway from Brisbane to Kalgoorlie.
– Why should the proposed railway be the responsibility of the Commonwealth?
– Because Queensland has its own railways running east and west.
– Queensland has too many railways.
– It has not a line too many. Queensland is not like the honorable senator’s little grass paddock.
-The honorable senator has not seen Tasmania.
– I could run through it in four days. . The Bourke toN orth Australia line should be the responsibility of the Commonwealth, because it willpractically run along the border of Queensland and close to South Australia, and will pass through the rich Barkly Tableland of North Australia. While it would serve two of the leading States, it would not directly benefit either, and, therefore, its construction ought to be regarded as a national affair. There is no doubt it would need to be a 4 ft. 8½ in. gauge. We must have the standard gauge on our main trunk lines; otherwise we cannot move troops or have sufficient rolling stock in any particular part of Australia to meet an emergency. I have much pleasure in supporting the motion moved by Senator Poll. I hope that the Government will give it their earnest consideration. I understand that the money proposed to be spent by the Development and Migration Commission can be devoted to this purpose, and, in my opinion, the whole of the money available to the commission could very properly be employed in building this developmental line.
– I do not think that honorable senators should be asked to come to a decision on such an important matter until they have had more information placed before them. With the exception of the East-West railway, it has always been held in Australia that the States are responsible for the railway development of their own territories; but the railway proposals of Senator Foll and Senator Thomas are expected by then to be the responsibility of the Commonwealth.
– SenatorFoll’s motion asks for a conference with the States.
- Senator Cox, to whom I listened with a great deal of interest, claimed that the Bourke to North Australia railway should be the responsibility of the Commonwealth.
– I think that he was speaking of the effect that such a railway would have on the development of North Australia.
– He was also speaking of the way in which the line could be used for defence purposes. On defence matters I think we can accept Senator Cox as an authority, to whose opinions we should pay some regard. We might well consider to what extent the Commonwealth Government ought to accept responsibility for the development of any State. It must, of course, have a deep interest in the question of railway construction for defensive purposes. The Leader of the Senate (Sir George Pearce) referred a few moments ago to the development of the Northern Territory. He pointed out that it had been handed over to a commission, whose duty it is to make investigations and report to the Government regarding railway construction. I am not altogether convinced that that matter should be left entirely to the commission. It may have a certain conception of a railway scheme which would be quite suitable for the development of the Northern Territory, but be lacking in other respects.
– It cannot take action without the authority of this Parliament.
– I recognize that. But the honorable senator is aware that each of the States adjacent to the Northern Territory is anxious to advance its own interests. South Australia claims that the trade of the Northern Territory should filter through that State. There is probably not arepresentative of South Australia in this chamber who will not urge that the railway system of the Territory should be connected up with the South Australian railways. An authority, apart from the commission and the governments of the States, should decide whether the railways that are constructed in the Northern Territory should be national in character and serve the interests of the whole of the Commonwealth. I am not quite sure that the Commonwealth Parliament is the best authority to decide which route this line should take. We have to remember that the States already have railway systems and every year have to provide for interest on the cost of their construction. The rapid development of the internal combustion engine and of motor transport must not be overlooked. The day is not far distant when it, will be found that railways do not provide the best means of transport for other than long distance haulage or defence purposes. Senator Cox may be prepared to admit that there is even now a doubt as to whether railways are the most efficient medium for the transport of troops. A year or two ago the Leader of the Senate (Sir George Pearce) informed honorable senators that, with the exception of a couple of months in the year, the Northern Territory lent itself admirably to motor transport. He went further and said that the more it was used in a particular season, the better it became for that form of transport. There is not u State in the Commonwealth in which the railways are paying both interest and working expenses. This Parliament should, therefore, hesitate before embarking upon a railway policy or encouraging the States to extend their lines. The Commonwealth Government has recognized the importance of having good main roads, and has made available large sums with that object in view. Motor transport is to-day a serious competitor of the railways. That is not confined to Australia; it is the experience also of Great Britain and other countries. I have yet to learn that the requirements of the Northern Territory cannot be met equally as well by motor transport as by railway construction. I recognize that the mover of the motion desires to assist the outback country, which has suffered so greatly from drought, and I believe he did not exaggerate the position when he- stated that the value of the stock lost in the recent drought was more than sufficient to pay for the construction of this line. But we should think seriously before committing the taxpayers to a large expenditure on railway construction -when every State is rapidly developing its arterial .roads in a way that will enable motor transport to replace railway transport to a very, considerable extent. A further aspect of the matter has been mentioned by Senator Cox. The standard gauge for Australia is 4 ft. 8J in. The New South Wales system and the east-west line are built to that gauge. Yet Australia has been committed to a large expenditure for the construction of something like 1,000 miles of line on a 3 ft. 6in. gauge to develop the Northern Territory. That was a huge mistake; but it is not yet too late to remedy it. This motion proposes the construction of a 4 ft. 8$ in. line, and Senator Cox has argued that it should be extended so as to link up with the Queensland railways, which have a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge. I cannot admit that in those circumstances it would be most conducive to the defence of Australia. The question arises how far the Commonwealth should accept responsibility for the construction of railways. Hitherto the building of railways has always been regarded as a State function. Assuming that it would he right for the Commonwealth to build the proposed railway, and that railways are essential for defence purposes, it might reasonably be contended that the whole of the railways of Australia should be in the hands of the Commonwealth. The railways towards the cost of which the Commonwealth is already contributing will probably be non-paying lines for many years. The State railways, for the most part, run through the most fertile portions of the country, whereas the main trunk lines connecting with various State capitals pass through a great deal of comparatively poor country. The Commonwealth should review the whole position respecting its contribution towards railway construction. The railways of Tasmania do not pay, and I understand that the position in Queensland is even worse than it is in Tasmania. Indeed, it has been said that the only time that the Queensland railways showed a profit was during a recent strike, when they were not operating. I am not opposed to the Commonwealth assisting in the development of Australia by the construction of railways which will open up n6v country and develop our resources, where the construction of such lines is beyond the capacity of the States. Probably the best way in which the Commonwealth could assist in providing railways would be by lending money to the States for their construction at reasonable rates of interest.
– (By leave) - I desire to make a personal explanation. Senator Herbert Hays has not correctly interpreted my remarks. The railway from Bourke–
THE PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - I point out that the scope of a personal explanation is clearly defined by the standing orders. The honorable senator may not again deal with the subject matter of his speech.
– All the Queensland railways-
– The honorable senator is not making a personal explanation. He may not proceed along those lines.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grant) adjourned.
Senate adjourned at9.52 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 17 November 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1927/19271117_senate_10_116/>.