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Thursday, 30 November 1911

Senator READY (Tasmania) .- On a question of such magnitude as that now under consideration, I cannot give a silent vote, and as the representative of a State who is, perhaps, more qualified to look at this proposal dispassionately and impartially than is the representative of any other State, it would be almost unwise of me not to express my views before a vote is taken upon the Bill. Senator Stewart's innuendoes in regard to bartering, and his statement that Tasmanian representatives have been influenced in their attitude towards this Bill by the consideration that an application has been made for a grant to Tasmania, are absolutely unworthy of him.

Senator Stewart - Did not the honorable senator hear the statement of Senator Lynch last night, that it was an inspired utterance? It will have its effect, too. The honorable senator is quite safe in getting for Tasmania all that he wants.

Senator READY - The honorable senator's mind must be very perverted. His trip to the Coronation has evidently given him a mental twist. During the course of my campaign, at a large public meeting in Launceston, I distinctly expressed myself in favour of the railway which forms the subject of this Bill. Perhaps that does not count with Senator Stewart, but it does with me and my constituents.

Senator Stewart - I said nothing about the honorable senator.

Senator READY - I resent the insinuation of the honorable senator that the representatives of Tasmania are influenced, in their attitude towards this Bill, by the fact, that that State is applying to the Commonwealth for a monetary grant. That grant will stand upon its merits. But the proposal which is embodied in the Bill is one which must be viewed from a broader ground ; and I am sorry that extraneous matter has been imported into the debate. During the time that I have occupied a seat in this Chamber, no representative of Western Australia has ever approached me upon the subject of the proposed railway.

I have never had a conversation in reference to it with any honorable senator from that State, either inside or outside of the Senate. Whilst the Western Australian representatives have had opportunities to bring the matter forward, they have never attempted to use those opportunities. Years ago, when I was merely a political student - and I still claim to be a political student, although I am, perhaps, a little more advanced now than I was then - I read the opinion of Major-General Edwardes, which is contained in a parliamentary paper dated 9th October, 1909. That officer said -

No general defence of Australia can be undertaken unless its distant parts are connected with the more populous colonies in the south and east of the continent. If an enemy were established in either Western Australia or at Port Darwin, you would be powerless to act against him. Their isolation is, therefore, a menace to the rest of Australia. . . . The interests of the whole continent, therefore, demand that the railways to connect Port Darwin and Western Australia with the other colonies should be made as soon as possible.

Senator Millen - Which railway does he put first?

Senator READY - The railway to Port Darwin. I have just read it. But that isnot the question. The point is that this eminent general considers that these connexions should be made in the best interests of Australia. In 1903, General Sir Edward Hutton gave us an opinion practically coinciding with that expressed by General Edwardes. Later on, we had the advantage of the opinion of Lord Kitchener, who was specially invited to visit Australia to report on these very questions. These reports have convinced me that it is absolutely necessary, in the interests of the Commonwealth, that this railway should be constructed.

I might justify my vote on these grounds alone, but I shall say a word with respect to some of the arguments which have been advanced against the construction of this line. One with respect to the alleged inferior character of the country has already been ably replied to by Senator Gardiner. The king-pin argument adduced against this measure is that it proposes the construction of what will be practically a desert railway. I am quite used to that kind of argument in my own State. When King Island was first occupied, the land there was described as being absolutely worthless, or fit only to run a few sheep on. Yet it is to-day a very populous little island, and very much enhanced prices have to be paid by any one who wishes to secure land there. The same kind of argument has . often been used in connexion with centra] Tasmania. It is mostly made use of by Conservatives. The centre of Tasmania is held, for the most part, in big areas, and the statement that the country is fit only for sheep grazing has been persisted in for years, notwithstanding the fact that the lowest annual rainfall recorded for any part of that district of Tasmania is 17 inches.

We all know that modern farming methods have so improved, and modern science has made it possible to so increase the fertility of soil, that it is possible in agriculture to improve greatly upon what could have been done a few years ago. In dealing with a matter of this kind, honorable senators must depend upon. the reports of experts; and it is well that we have such reports because, if we had to adopt the opinions of honorable senators opposite, I should shudder for the result. We have received reports from men like Mr. Muir and Mr. Castella, who have been over the country traversed by the route of this railway, and say that they found a great deal of very valuable land there.

Senator Pearce - It should be remembered that Mr. Muir is a surveyor.

Senator READY - I understand that ; and I am further led to believe that Mr. Muir is regarded as one of the most reliable public servants of Western Australia. It is not to be believed that a man with a reputation like that, after going over the country, would submit a report to the effect that its character has been very largely misrepresented if he could nol fully justify that report. I prefer to take his opinion rather than the opinions we have h.,d expressed from the other side. We have listened to the criticism that we cannot find the money to build this railway. Senator St. Ledger wants to know how the Government are going to finance it. Others have said that the Government must resort te a borrowing policy. I believe that they will make an honest attempt to finance the construction of this line without borrowing; and if, later on, it should be found necessary to borrow, we shall have our financial machinery so perfected that, instead of having to go cap in hand to the money-lenders of England, we shall be able to call upon our own Commonwealth Bank to take a hand in floating the necessary loan for us and so save the brokerage and commission charges which have had to be paid on loans raised by the States. I suppose that honor - able senators are aware that the national debts of the States amount to about £270,000,000, and that of that sum, £80,000,000 has been paid in brokerage and commission, leaving out interest. Yet we are accused by Senator St. Ledger, and others of his kidney, with being schoolboys in finance when we propose to finance our undertakings honestly out of revenue. The history of the past proves that the financial policies of the States have led to loose and lavish expenditure. The motto, " Easy got, easy go," has been very applicable to the way in which the States have squandered the money they have raised by way of loans. 1 can quote an example of this kind of high finance from my own State. Tasmania has borrowed £11,000,000. She has paid £11,000,000 in interest, and still owes £11,000,000. That is the kind of thing which it takes a schoolboy to understand. It has been estimated, by good financiers in Tasmania, that if we had taxed ourselves to the extent of £200,000 a year for the last fifty years, we might have paid for our public works out of revenue. Yet we are to-day paying £400,000 a year in interest in little Tasmania. The borrowing system of the States has lent itself to loose and profligate expenditure; and I am glad to know that the Government intend to finance this great project, to a great extent, by means of the note issue. This will be more sensible than going to the money-lenders of Great Britain. The Government, also, will finance the undertaking, as far as possible, out of revenue.

Senator Vardon - I wish I could get some sovereigns from the bank without paying interest.

Senator READY - If we must pav interest, it is better that 'we should pay it to ourselves than to people in England. It is better that we should pay the interest to ourselves than that we should have to send it to the Old Country in the form of commodities which are put into the hands of the people to whom the interest is due, and who are placed in a position to rig the prices which we secure for our commodities. Senator Vardon has talked against this Bill, and says he intends to vote for it.

Senator Vardon - I am going to vote for the amendment.

Senator READY - Some honorable senators from Tasmania will show that, in this matter, they a»e Nationalists.

Senator St Ledger - Is Tasmania looking for anything?

Senator Clemons - The honorable senator should not say that.

Senator READY - I have been rather surprised at the attitude taken up by Senator Clemons. I agree with the honorable senator when he says that we do not want any one to vote in support of Tasmania's claims as a matter of bargaining. The honorable senator said that he would prefer to do without votes on those terms. While I agree with him, I am sorry to say that he left us in the lurch the last time we voted on Tasmania's claims.

Senator Clemons - It is well for the honorable senator to talk about my leaving Tasmanian representatives in the lurch.

Senator READY - The honorable senator did not vote with us, anyhow.

Senator Clemons - The honorable senator can use that for political talk in Tasmania if he considers it worth anything.

Senator READY - It is at least a. tact.

Senator Clemons - The honorable senator need not try it on here or with any one who knows me.

The PRESIDENT - Order!

Senator READY - I obey your ruling, sir. Taking all matters into consideration believe that there is only one course open to those who desire toseethe Commonwealth progress, and that is to vote for this Bill. If we voted for further information it would simply kill the measure. Honorable senators opposite may laugh, but what I mean is that the object of the request for further information is really to shelve the Bill. That is what honorable senators opposite desire to do. Honorable senators may. find, amongst the Senate papers, a pile of reports 2 inches thick, supplying data of every kind in connexion with this railway.

Senator Vardon - There is no difference of opinion expressed in the reports, I suppose ?

Senator READY - I think that the weight of opinion is all on one side.

Senator Millen - Can the honorable senator discover from this pile of documents how much land South Australia is prepared to give the Commonwealth?

Senator READY - Probably not, but I do not consider that a very vital matter in view of the attitude which the South Australian Government have all along adopted towards this proposal. I am content to leave that matter to negotiations between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of South Australia. I am content to rest on the weight of evidence supplied by reports submitted to the Senate during the last ten years. I think that we should not prolong the agony by assenting to delay for the purpose of obtaining further information, but should, as speedily as possible, link up this vast continent with this great iron road.

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