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Friday, 29 June 1906

Mr WILSON (Corangamite) . - The Minister asked us to consider this question from an' Australian stand-point, and it is from that point of view that I desire to discuss it. On this occasion it suited the Minister to quote the opinion of Major-General Sir Edward Hutton, but in other instances that officer's views have not been received with much favour by hon- 01 able members on the Government benches. I think it is quite possible that within the next century there may be a reasonable demand for the construction of the proposed railway.

Mr Kelly - Has the honorable member read Major-General Hutton 's statements with regard to the importance of the line from a military stand-point?

Mr WILSON - Yes; but I do not intend to discuss that aspect of the matter; I leave that to the honorable member. I wish to enter my protest against even a survey of the proposed line being made. At the present stage in our history I do not think that such a work is justifiable. The Minister contended that the construction of a railway would contribute largely to the development of the vast unsettled area that lies between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, but I should like to point out that Western . Australia and South Aus tralia should do a great deal more than they have done up to the present in the way of developing their territories before they ask us to incur an expenditure such as that now contemplated.

Mr Carpenter - Western Australia is spending large sums of money in that direction:

Mr WILSON - Then she is only doing her duty. We have no evidence that the country through which the line would pass holds out such prospects as the Minister would have us believe. The reports of those who have travelled through it, and particularly the report of the Treasurer, who has written a very interesting description of his experiences, show that the lives of those who took part in the expeditions were in constant danger owing to the want of water.

Mr Carpenter - Bores have been put down recently, and water has been struck.

Mr WILSON - Notwithstanding that, all the' reports available to us confirm what the Treasurer told us as to the character of the country when he passed through it. For the greater part of the distance between Fort Augusta and Kalgoorlie no water of any consequence has been discovered, and we know that the rainfall is very small indeed.'

Mr Frazer - How does the honorable member know that?

Mr WILSON - I gather that from the reports.

Sir John Forrest - That applies to only about 400 miles of the distance.

Mr WILSON - The Treasurer speaks of 400 miles as if it were nothing, but his report shows that it was no small matter for him to cover that distance. It was a matter of life and death to him and his party'. However, all these matters are secondary considerations. What we have to consider is whether the railway would prove of sufficient value to the whole of Australia - leaving out of consideration Western Australia, or any other individual State - to justify its construction at the present moment.

Sir John Forrest - That question can be answered in the affirmative.

Mr Fowler - That would be proved one way or the other by the survey.

Mr WILSON - I do not think it would.

Mr Fowler - At least we should^ get all the information we can on the subject.

Mr WILSON - I do not think we should be justified in spending /even the amount proposed in making the survey. I contend that up to the present time we have nothing before us to indicate that the line would prove of any special value, or that any appreciable development would result from its construction. Therefore, I shall vote against the Bill. I believe that some time during the next century it may prove desirable to make the survey, and that, probably, during the succeeding century the construction of the line will be justified. At present, however, we should not be warranted in taking any action in that direction. The Minister told us that there was every prospect of valuable minerals being found. We are all very glad that such valuable mineral discoveries have been made in Western Australia, and we acknowledge that they have proved of inestimable advantage to the whole of the Commonwealth. In view of the magnificent work that has been done by the pioneers of the Western Australian goldfields, I am quite certain that if there had been any minerals of value in the territory lying between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta they would have been brought to light long before this.

Mr Frazer - The Western Australian Government intend to equip a prospecting party that will travel with the survey party and search the country for minerals.

Mr WILSON - The Western Australian Government might very well equip their prospecting party, and send it out beforehand, so that information might be obtained which would assist us very materially in coming to a conclusion. In the absence of reliable supplies of water, the pastoral value of the country is very small.

Sir John Forrest - Bores are now being put down.

Mr WILSON - Yes, no doubt ; but how are the people who take up the country for pastoral purposes to put down bores ? Are they to take their flocks and herds into the country before the water is found?

Mr Fowler - -Herds have already been taken through the country.

Mr WILSON - Only under very exceptional conditions. We know that rain falls very seldom, and that the absence of water is the great difficulty in the way of settlement. The district is now uninhabited, and I believe that for many years to come it will continue to be so - that, in fact, it will be found to be uninhabitable. I should like to apply to this tract of country words which have been used in regard to another portion of Australia -

Curse the railway, curse the track, a'.l the way there, and all the way back,

Curse the flies, and curse the weather,

And the desert altogether.

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