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Tuesday, 28 November 1911


Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - It is not my intention to follow the example of others who have spoken in this debate by reading from what I may call antediluvian reports connected either with the survey or the route of the railway.


Senator McColl - The railway is to be built on the strength of antediluvian reports.


Senator NEEDHAM - The earlier reports were prepared merely to enable members of Parliament to give a vote as to whether a survey would be justified or not. Since that time there has been a great change. Not only has the survey been undertaken, and not only has sufficient data been produced to impel the Commonwealth Government to bring in a Bill for the construction of the line, but public opinion has changed. To-day those who supported the survey are prepared to support the construction of the line. I welcome the introduction of this measure, and am very glad indeed to have an opportunity of supporting its second reading. I do so for two reasons - first because it is a matter of national moment and national policy; and secondly, because the Act of this Parliament in giving its imprimatur to the Bill will be a measure of tardy justice to the people of Western Australia, who have long looked for a proposal of the kind.


Senator NEEDHAM - I fully realize the heavy expenditure that will be entailed on the Commonwealth until the line is completed, and for some time after. Nevertheless, I believe that expenditure to be amply justified. Our national safety is one of the most important factors.


Senator Stewart - Does the honorable senator think that the building of a line through a desert is going to make Australia safe?


Senator NEEDHAM - Senator Stewart,who has just returned from his holidays, seems to be full of enthusiasm. In answer to him I have to .say that if there were no other motive than national safety, I should ask the opponents of this Bill to pause before casting a vote with the object of defeating the measure or delaying its progress. As far as the debate has gone discussion has ranged round the question of gauge.


Senator Millen - Largely, but not entirely.


Senator NEEDHAM - Well, chiefly. Even Senator Sayers in his closing remarks stated that the gauge question was a burning one, particularly with South Australia and Victoria. I recognise the importance of that aspect of the question. But I do not wish it to be understood that in determining the gauge of the transcontinental railway any State has been ignored, or that any State has been given an undue advantage over another. As a matter of fact, when the Commonwealth Government was endeavouring to arrive at a determination as to what gauge should be chosen, every State was consulted. Every State sent a representative to a conference. I refer to the War Railway Council.


Senator Millen - There was a previous gathering which arrived at a similar decision, and every State was represented there also.


Senator NEEDHAM - That may be so. At the meeting of the War Railway Council on 14th February, 191 1, there were present : Mr. T. R. Johnson, Chief Commissioner for Railways and Tramways in New South Wales ; Mr. W. Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Victorian Railways Commissioners; Lieut. -Colonel J. F. Thallon, Commissioner for Railways, Queensland; Mr. A. B. Moncrieff, South Australian Railways Commissioner; Mr. J. T. Short, Commissioner for Railways, Western Australia; and Mr. J. M. McCormick, General Manager, Tasmanian Government Railways.

This Council carried a resolution in favour of the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge. Resolution 20 reads -

The War Railway Council recommends (a) a uniform 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge of railway linking up the capitals between Brisbane and Fremantle ;. (*) a gauge of 4 ft. 8£ inches on the transcontinental line from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta; (c) that the cost of conversion be shared upon a basis to be determined between the Commonwealth and the States.

In face of that Council's resolution, I am justified in saying that there was no attempt on the part of the Federal Government to ignore or to take undue advantage of any State. Another War Railway Council meeting was held in May. Again we find the same officers present. Each and every one of them was an expert. On the top of their advice we have that of the Commonwealth consulting engineer. I wish to contrast the advice of those practical men, whose life's work it is to consider these particular matters, with the advice tendered to us by a section of the Australian press - particularly of Victoria - and the advice of certain honorable senators. Let me refer for a moment to a leading article in the Age of the 24th of this month. It commences by saying that the question of the building of this line is one of national policy and moment; that it is also a question for the States, and that it looked to the Senate as the States' House to conserve the rights of the States. I have always looked upon that newspaper as the guardian of national rights, rather than as the guardian of State rights. But that article struck me as somewhat contradictory in its advocacy of National and State rights at the same time, for I fail to see how it can be considered as a national policy and at the same time conserving State rights. What I think our aim in this discussion should be is to conserve the Commonwealth rights, and to secure the most direct railway service that is possible for man and beast, and the quick despatch of troops between the eastern and western portions of the continent.


Senator Stewart - How many people will be settled along the line when it is constructed ?


Senator NEEDHAM - I am not in a position just now to tell my honorable friend.


Senator Stewart - You are not a prophet.


Senator NEEDHAM - No; nor do I attempt to be a prophet.


Senator Stewart - I think that you will be on the safe side if you do not prophesy. There will be about one person to every 20 miles.


Senator NEEDHAM - I come now to the question of whether the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge will be better than the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge for carrying the greater load. I venture to say that any honorable senator who uses the argument that the broader the gauge the greater is the capacity for carrying loads is somewhat falsifying the position.


Senator Stewart - Engineers say so, anyhow.


Senator NEEDHAM - Engineers may have said so. I am not posing as an engineer, as my honorable friend is aware, but I know that the hauling power of locomotives is being increased almost daily. On the railways of Western Australia I have seen an engine capable of carrying a certain load on the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, and another engine capable of hauling a greater load on that gauge. I shall quote in reply to Senator Stewart a statement which appears in one of the reports of Mr. Deane, and which, I think, will verify my statement -

Wilh regard to the hauling power of locomotives, it is probably not known, except to a few, what development is taking place. Here our heaviest locomotives and tenders weigh together in working order, say, 105 tons. In the United States the builders have succeeded in producing locomotives 500,000, 600,000, and 700,000 lbs. in weight successively. The most recent design is for a locomotive and tender weighing combined 850,000 lbs., or 425 tons American, equal to 378 British tons. Seeing that this result can be achieved with the 4-ft. gauge, is it worth while going to increased expense to adopt a gauge 6£ inches wider?


Senator Stewart - Would not a 1,000- ton engine pull a heavier load than a 378- ton engine?


Senator NEEDHAM - In the western State I have seen cases where the hauling power of the locomotive has been increased without interfering with the gauge. I understand that it is the intention of the Government, if this Bill is passed, to construct the line on the day labour principle. I am very glad that that is their intention. I suggest that they should endeavour to get all the necessary material on a somewhat similar system. It is well known that several thousands of sleepers will be required.


Senator Stewart - Let them get ironbark sleepers from Queensland.


Senator NEEDHAM - Why should they not get better sleepers from Western Australia and South Australia, where there are no white ants, and it is not necessary to lay down the timber of which my honorable friend speaks ?


Senator Stewart - We will have to appeal to uncle, though, before we can build the railway.


Senator NEEDHAM - I know that representations have been made to the Government that they should enter into negotiations with the two States concerned to procure timber reserves from which they could get the sleepers they require, and thus save the contractor's price. If it is intended to build the line on the day labour principle, why should we not endeavour to get all the material we possibly can on the same principle? If we can obtain from the State Governments reserves in which men will be employed in felling trees, and hewing and shaping sleepers, and sending them direct to the men engaged on the construction of the line, I think it will be found that we shall save a considerable sum. I hold in my hand an estimate as to what may be saved by adopting such a method as that. I will not give the figures as accurate, but they have been supplied to me by a gentleman who is recognised as a very capable engineer. Speaking of a jarrah reserve for bridge timbers, &c, he says -

If the Federal Government secure their own forest and get their own timber there can be easily a saving of ad. per sleeper, equal to at least £80 per mile for sleepers, as well as a big saving on bridge and other timber, and then make a profit out of the scantling and smaller sizes.


Senator Pearce - Do you suggest that sleepers should be cut by day labour, or at so much each ?


Senator NEEDHAM - I suggest that the Commonwealth Government should endeavour to secure from the two States reserves, in which trees can be felled and sleepers hewn and shaped, just as the Timber Combine of Western Australia is doing to-day.


Senator Pearce - You said that it might be done by day labour.


Senator NEEDHAM - I was trying to extend the principle.


Senator Henderson - They would not do it by day labour.


Senator NEEDHAM - If the Government build the railway on the day-labour principle, they will save the contractor's price; and if they can supply the sleepers they will save the charge of the Timber Combine of Western Australia. At the present time two Departments in Western

Australia - the Railway Department and the Works Department - are cutting their own sleepers, and supplying themselves. Why should not the Commonwealth Government try to get reserves and cut their own sleepers, and so save the charge of the Timber Combine? I throw out the suggestion, which may, or may not, be accepted. I think it would be wise if the Government would consider it. The next question I desire to discuss is the cost of conversion to the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge as against the.5-ft. 3-in. gauge. Whether we like it or not, we shall shortly be faced with the question of adopting a uniform gauge for Australia, and, therefore, we must consider what the cost will be to convert the present gauges - 5 ft. 3 in., 3 ft. 6 in., or whatever they may be - into a uniform gauge. Once this Bill is passed, I presume it will be necessary that the States shall fall into line.


Senator Story - Suppose that they refuse to do so?


Senator NEEDHAM - If they refuse to fall into line they will be foolish, but I am picturing to myself the day when the necessity of a uniform gauge for Australia will have to be faced, and I realize the vast difference in the cost of converting the gauges to 4 ft. 8^ in. rather than to 5 ft. 3 in. Honorable senators know perfectly well what that vast difference is, and I need not recapitulate arguments which have been used in that regard. The difference in favour of the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge will be from £2,000,000 to £2,500,000. Honorable senators ought to pause before they commit themselves to a vote which might mean an unnecessary expenditure of money so far as conversion to a uniform gauge is concerned. Following up that question, I desire to refer to a paper by Mr. Deane, which was presented to Parliament in October last, and which is entitled The Gauges of Australia and their Unification.' Despite the fact that every State in the Union has been consulted as to the gauge, that the expert representative of each 'State has indorsed the proposal to build this line on the 4-ft. 8j-in, gauge, and that the Government have gone abroad in order to buttress them in their position, if such buttressing is necessary, we are asked to halt and, as it were, to mark time in order that further inquiry may be made. If we are to travel further afield for fresh information on this subject, I do not know where we are to get it. I might, if I were so disposed, engage the Senate by a reference to the various gauges upon which railways have been constructed in different countries ; but it is sufficient for my purpose to give some totals. I find that there have been 4°7 1 S°S miles of railway constructed on the 4-ft. 8|-in. gauge, as against 47,659 miles on the 5-ft. 6-in. gauge. The percentage of mileage under the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge is 65.58, as against a percentage of 7.57 represented by the mileage of the 5-ft. 6-in. gauge.


Senator Blakey - What is the mileage of the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge?


Senator NEEDHAM - It is so small as to be scarcely worth mentioning. Only 7,887 miles of railway have been constructed on the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, and this represents but 1.27 per cent, of the total railway construction of the world. It is, therefore, quite beyond what is reasonable to ask that we should wait for further inquiries before deciding what shall be the gauge of this railway. I realize that the opposition, if any, to the Bill will centre round the question of gauge. From what I have read and heard on the subejct, I believe the Government have adopted the wisest policy in proposing that it shall be constructed on the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge, in the hope that that will become the uniform gauge throughout Australia. I have nothing to add, except to appeal to the Senate to pass this Bill in its entirety, and, by so doing, hasten the day when we shall be able to say of this Commonwealth, that really and truly we are one people, with one flag and one destiny.







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