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Thursday, 17 November 1927

Senator HERBERT HAYS (Tasmania) . - 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.

Senator Thompson - SenatorFoll's motion asks for a conference with the States.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - 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.

Senator Foll - I think that he was speaking of the effect that such a railway would have on the development of North Australia.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - 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.

Senator Crawford - It cannot take action without the authority of this Parliament.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - 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 n6\v 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.

Senator Cox - (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.

Senator Cox - All the Queensland railways-

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