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Friday, 1 December 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - Obviously the Government cannot accept this amendment. If it were carried it would practically mean that the Commonwealth would say to the States of South Australia and Western Australia, " We are in favour of the construction of the railway; but build it yourselves." Senator Walker estimates that the land which his amendment would require the States to give the Commonwealth would be worth £4,000,000.

Senator Walker - The prospective value might be that.

Senator PEARCE - That would simply mean that the Commonwealth would say to the States, " We will advance you £4,000,000 on the security of the land over which the railway will be constructed." If that be the proposal, why take up the time of Parliament with such a Bill as this? Why not say to the States, "We will lend you ,£4,000,000, and take that land as security." That may be Senator Walker's idea of how the Commonwealth should build a line, but it is a peculiar one. It is more like the States building a railway, the Commonwealth merely acting the part of " uncle."

Senator Walker - The prospective value is a long way off.

Senator PEARCE - I cannot accept such an amendment. It is altogether opposed to the idea of the Commonwealth constructing the line. Either the Commonwealth is prepared to build this railway or it is not. If it is prepared to do so, it should pay for the work. If it is not prepared to pay for the railway it ought not to construct it. If the principle which Senator Stewart enunciated ought to be followed in this instance, it ought also to be followed in connexion with every Commonwealth work. Does Senator Walker want the railway from the Federal Capital to the port at Jervis Bay to be constructed on tie same principle?

Senator Walker - If you like.

Senator PEARCE - What is to be the position of the Commonwealth with regard to the land acquired? Are we to have sovereign rights over it?

Senator Walker - The Commonwealth will be like a private land-owner.

Senator PEARCE - We shall simply be land-holders within a State. Is that advisable? If the Commonwealth is going in for wholesale absorption of State lands, it is quite a new policy. In that event it ought to hold the lands in the same way as it holds the Northern Territory and the Federal Capital. Commonwealth law should be supreme there.

Senator Walker - We merely want to recoup ourselves in time.

Senator PEARCE - This is a Bill for building a Commonwealth railway over State areas. It is not a proposal for acquiring State lands. I think that when honorable senators consider these facts, they will see that what we are doing is different from the action of a Government which constructs a railway which adds value to private land. The Commonwealth is in a different position towards the States from that of States towards private individuals. The Committee would be very illadvised if it acted towards any State as a State may be justified in acting towards private persons.

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