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Friday, 24 November 1911


Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - The construction by the Commonwealth of a line of railway between two States marks a new departure in the history b£ Federation. The proposal which is embodied in this Bill is one in which the people of Australia are vitally interested.. The project has been on the, tapis for at least nine or ten years. I have in my possession reports relating to it, which are dated 1901. Upon each occasion that this question has been before the Senate I have protested against the proposed line being constructed at the expense of the Commonwealth. Before I conclude my remarks I hope to show the expenditure which the States have incurred in railway construction. Under this Bill we are asked to build a line between South Australia and Western Australia at the expense of the Commonwealth, although the work, when completed, will in no way benefit the people of the other States. We are asking them to spend their money to build a railway chiefly for the advantage of two other States. It is a most remarkable circumstance that no plans and specifications 'have been furnished to us. I have never known a railway to be proposed to any Parliament in such a manner before. We have not even an estimate from the Commonwealth engineer. We have nothing to go upon, except a bare Bill which the Government ask us to pass. It is virtually like asking the Commonwealth Parliament for a blank cheque. Surely plans should have been laid before us showing the number! of bridges, cuttings, tunnels, culverts, and so forth, that will be required. 'But we have none of these particulars. In fact, we are to be compelled to vote in the dark.


Senator Millen - Even the route is not determined.


Senator SAYERS - Two routes are marked, one via Tarcoola, and one nearer the coast.


Senator Lynch - Has not the honorable senator known of deviations of routes being allowed for in connexion with other railways ?


Senator SAYERS - The least the Government should have done was to lay before us a plan definitely marking the route. Surely it is premature to ask Parliament to vote on this line before the route is fixed.


Senator Pearce - We have fixed the route..


Senator SAYERS - Which route has been chosen?


Senator Pearce - It is on the map.


Senator SAYERS - Two routes are on the map.


Senator Pearce - No, one.


Senator SAYERS - We have no guarantee as to which of these routes will be adopted.


Senator Pearce - I suggest to the honorable senator that he should get his eyesight improved.


Senator SAYERS -I consider that my eyesight is just as good as the Minister's, and I would advise him to be a little more courteous in his interjections.


Senator Pearce - Why did the honorable senator give a direct contradiction to an obvious fact like that?


Senator SAYERS - I suppose some one knows a little besides the Minister of Defence. Since he has become a military man he has grown rather dictatorial, but I would advise him not to try that game with me. He is not a general or the colonel of a regiment yet. I quite agree that we ought to meet this proposal in a reasonable spirit ; but is it a fair thing to the people whom I represent that they should be asked to pay for a railway for the benefit of other States?


Senator Lynch - Have the people of the honorable senator's State objected?


Senator SAYERS - Yes; they think that the people of Western Australia and South Australia should do what the people of other States have done for themselves and paid for. Before I sit down I shall show the money that has been spent on railways by Queensland within her own territories, and in making connexions in two places with New South Wales. We do not come cap in hand to the Commonwealth Parliament when we are going to build a line to the Northern Territory border. We are prepared to do what is right and reasonable within our own territory, and that is what we ask the people of South Australia and Western Australia to do. Surely that is a reasonable proposition. Before I go any further I should like to know from the Minister what the cost of this railway is to be. Can he give any estimate?


Senator Lynch - Between£4,000 and £5,000 a mile.


Senator SAYERS - I have seen estimates by engineers. The first one that I saw was in 1901. There was a Conference of chief engineers of States, comprising Mr. Deane, now engineer for the Commonwealth, then engineer for New South Wales; Mr. Fagan, representing Queensland ; and the engineers for South Australia and Western Australia and Victoria. They collected various information, but, later on, after obtaining more knowledge, they increased their estimate of cost. But since they made their last estimate the cost of material and of wages has gone up. Railway navvies and other workmen are getting more money now than they were then. They are quite entitled to get more, because the cost of commodities has increased. If the Government were doing their duty they would come down with estimates based upon the new wages rates, showing what the line is likely to cost.


Senator Pearce - We have done that. The information is before the Senate.


Senator SAYERS - I should like to see it.


Senator Pearce - It has been circulated amongst the parliamentary papers.


Senator SAYERS - I have not seen it. Perhaps the Minister will furnish me with a copy. Another consideration is that we are going to build this line through a territorywhere water is veiry scarce. In other parts of Australia, where we have been accustomed to build railways, there is an ample supply of water. It is quite easy to shift camps from time to time. But in this territory we shall have to depend upon sub-artesian water, and, if that fails at any time, as it may do, the railway will be brought to a. standstill. Men cannot carry on without water.


Senator Vardon - There is plenty of water nearer the coast.


Senator SAYERS - I understand, although I have not heard it officially stated, that the line is to be built via Tarcoola. All these things are going to add tothe cost of the line. It is to be built by day labour, and I hope the Government will not attempt to sweat those who have to do the work. They should pay them wages in keeping with the peculiar difficulties and isolation of the country, rather than the prevailing wages of Victoria, New South Wales, or Queensland.


Senator Pearce - We shall certainly not pay the wages paid on Government works in Queensland. We should be ashamed to.


Senator SAYERS - Mr. C.Y. O'Connor, the Engineer-in-Chief of Western

Australian railways, reported on ist May, 1901, as follows -

In accordance with your request that I should report upon the cost of a railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, and also upon the probable revenue and working expenses thereof; I have the honour to report as follows : -

In an undertaking of this magnitude, traversing 1,100 miles of country, which is mostly uninhabited, and uncultivated, and waterless, although there are no engineering difficulties to contend with, there is necessarily a good deal of uncertainty as to its probable cost, a large element in the matter being the difficulty of supplying water to the men and animals and machines employed on the construction works, and in carrying forward the requisite materials, including rails and fastenings and sleepers for the permanent way, and timber and ironwork and cement, &c, for the various structures required.

The long distance carriage necessarily in-

S'olved will also, of course, add to the cost of construction, the probable average cost of conveying the- materials above-mentioned from Adelaide or Fremantle to the places where they will be required being from 40s. to 60s. per ton.

I take it that that gentleman is a competent engineer, and he says the task is one of great magnitude, and that the line will go through waterless, uninhabited, and uncultivated country. Men .will not go out there at the normal wages of any of the States to do work of this kind. It would not be feasible to ask them, and if the Government asked them I do not think it would get them. Wages may be safely put down at 10 per cent, more than when that report was made ten years ago.


Senator O'Keefe - Does not the last estimate given by the Minister of Defence provide for the increase In wages?


Senator SAYERS - I take it that that was an estimate prepared to put before the Senate. Even if the work costs £1,000,000 more, we cannot go back on it, but must pay the amount. I hav]e known jobs much smaller than this to cost double the estimate. We have no survey, so .what is the use of the Minister telling us that an estimate of the cost has been made, when they have no plans or specifications? Any man in the street could say that the work will cost so many millions ; but what guarantee have we that it will not cost more? The only definite offer we have to go on is that of Norton Griffiths, who says that he is prepared to do the work for a specified sum. If that offer were accepted, we should know what we were doing. When a railway contractor takes a job at a price, he has to carry it through, whether it costs more _ or less. I take no exception to the work being done by the Government by day labour,, except that, without plans and specifications, the best engineer in the world cannot give us a reliable estimate of the ultimate cost.


Senator Givens - He can only make a guess.


Senator SAYERS - -That bears out my argument. We are asked to pass a Railway Bill on guesswork. This is a new departure in building railways, without plans or estimates, and with nothing but a guess at the cost. Not long ago a contract was let by the Government for the building of a wireless telegraphy station at Pennant Hills. To show .the value of contracts or of estimates where the Government are concerned, that work was not done for the amount which it was supposed to cost. The Government had to alter it, and pay a lot more for it. The same thing will apply to this railway if the Senate is foolish enough to pass the Bill in the present circumstances.


Senator Vardon - The Government had to pay only 75 to too per cent, more for the wireless telegraphy station.


Senator SAYERS - That makes the matter even worse.


Senator Lynch - Is not that an argument against contract work rather than against work clone under Government supervision ?


Senator SAYERS - No. I believe that, in that case, the Government let the contract without 'proper plans and specifications, and without drawing up a proper agreement. To quote again from Mr. O'Connor's report -

Having taken all these elements into con- . sideration, however, with the assistance of Mr. Pendleton's report on the South Australian portion of the line, and having gone very carefully into the matter from many points of view, I am of opinion that the railway, including rollingstock, can be attained for an average of about ^4,000 per mile, making in all ^'4,400,000.

When I asked Senator Lynch what was likely to be the_ cost of the railway, he estimated it at £6,000 a mile.


Senator Henderson - He said £5,°°°j but I think he was joking.


Senator SAYERS - If so, it was an uncalledfor joke, because I was serious, as we all ought to be in considering a proposition of this magnitude. Mr. O'Connor then gave an estimate for a railway on a 4-ft. 8j-.in. gauge, with 60-lb. rails. Eighty or 90-lb. rails are the very least that we should attempt to put down.

In the early days, some of the State Governments built lines with 60-lb. rails, and might as well have thrown the money into the sea.


Senator Vardon - South Australia is putting 75-lb. rails in its 3-ft. 6-in. gauge lines.


Senator SAYERS - The lightest rails used for that gauge in Queensland are 80 lbs. j yet here is an estimate with rails 20 lbs. to the yard lighter than they should be, the total estimated cost, even then, being £4,400,000. This engineer obtained his information regarding the land on the South Australian portion of the route at second-hand from Mr. Pendleton. However, I shall deal with the details of his estimate when the Bill next comes before us, if I may be permitted to resume my speech then.

Leave granted ; debate adjourned.







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