Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 27 September 1912

The PRESIDENT - Order ! We are dealing with the second reading of this Bill. I have no objection to the honorable senator discussing the development of the Northern Territory, but at present he is simply casting ridicule upon other honorable senators who, in his opinion, have made " silly interjections." I have asked honorable senators not to interject while Senator Sayers is speaking.

Senator SAYERS - I do not mind interjections, and I do not know why you should pull me up, sir. I am entitled to express the opinion that -some of those who have made remarks know nothing about this country. It is impossible for them to know anything, because they have not had the experience. I am quite justified in saying that the policy of the Government ought to be explained to the Senate before they ask us to spend halfamillion on a railway. They also propose to build freezing works in the Northern Territory. I believe that a wrong policy has been pursued in all the States in putting freezing works on the coast. The loss in bringing cattle down from remote inland places is often enormous. It will be bad policy to build freezing works at Port Darwin. I can remember cattle being brought from western Queensland, when they had to be taken from the train at the Reed River and travelled overland to Bowen. That was before the railway connexion " was made with Townsville and Bowen. I have seen four men travelling with a mob of cattle, doing nothing but skin the beasts that dropped out by the way. The cattle were attacked by redwater and other complaints. They had been railed some hundreds of miles, and as soon as they got to water and started to travel, hundreds died upon the road. It would be better, in the interests of the Northern Territory, to build the freezing works in the locality where the cattle are reared and fattened. You will always find that beef killed near where it is reared is better to eat, and more juicy, than that which has travelled 200 or more miles. The first quality that leaves the meat as a result of travelling is its juiciness; and that happens as soon as the cattle begin to fret. They may, apparently, be fat and in good condition, but the meat is nearly uneatable. That is one reason why we do not get better prices for our beef in Europe. If the cattle were killed close to where they are reared, and then railed to the seaboard, there would not be so much fibre in the meat, which would be juicier and better flavoured.

Senator Chataway - That is one reason why beef in Melbourne is not so good as beef in places like Tullamulla

Senator SAYERS - In some inland towns a " poddy " that has been recently killed will make better eating than a bullock that has travelled 150 miles, though the bullock may be heavier, and look fatter.

Senator McGregor - I thought that the further meat travelled the more tender it became.

Senator SAYERS - I am glad that the Minister has made that interjection, because it will show people who are interested in cattle what his knowledge on this subject is.

Senator McGregor - I am only saying what " the man on the job " thinks.

Senator SAYERS - The Minister is on a very good job for himself at present, and if he takes my advice he will try to stay there. But I do not think that either he or the Honorary Minister will keep their jobs very much longer, though, of course, they will keep them as long as they can. The Government have no need to appoint three men to advise them about the Northern Territory, because there are officers under the South Australian Government who have had forty years' experience of it. They are not numskulls, and ignorant men, but able officers. Surely it would be better for the Government to ascertain what these men know than to ap .point a Commission. Quite lately I talked with five or six men who have been conducting a station business in the North ern Territory for the last thirty years. One of these men, whom I know, is now residing in Brisbane. He was for thirty years in the Northern Territory, and, with others, was growing sugar cane there. They also grew a great deal of coffee, and' he told me that they had to put the firestick through their crop because they could not market it. They produced tons of coffee, but by the time they had marketed it and got the returns they found that they were in debt over the transaction. The Government should find out from the people already settled in the Territory what can be done there. That would be better than sending men up to inspect the country. These men can only form their opinions upon the information they will derive from those who are already settled in the Territory. I would much prefer to take the opinion of a man who had been twenty-five years settled in the Territory than the opinion of two or three Government officers sent up on a visit of inspection.

Senator Guthrie - How was it the settlers the honorable senator has referred to could find no market for their coffee?

Senator SAYERS - They found a market, but it was not a profitable market. They found when they got their account of sales that the cost of production and of sending the coffee to the market amounted to more than they received for it. One can grow almost anything in any part of the world, but the question is whether it can be grown at a profit. No man will go into an industry if it can only be carried on at a loss. The people to whom I have referred produced 40 acres of coffee. What were they to do with it? They could not dispose of it in the Northern Territory, where there are only about 1,000 white people. They had to send it to Sydney or Melbourne where they had to accept for it the market price of the world. It came into competition with coffee produced in Java, Ceylon, and Brazil, and they found that they could only produce it at a loss. It must be remembered that coffee cannot be grown on the lowlands of the coast. It can only be grown on the higher lands some distance from the coast, and freight upon it from the place where it is grown to the port of shipment must be added to the other charges before it can be marketed. We could grow hundreds of tons of coffee on the highlands at the back of Cairns, but it would not return as much as it would cost to produce and market it. That is the reason why the settlers in the Northern Territory to whom I have referred had to put the firestick through their crops. When this railway is taken as proposed to the Katherine River, we shall have to decide what route is to be followed from that place. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, in introducing the Bill, said that it could not give rise to much controversy, because it must be a part of any transcontinental line. But the honorable senator did not tell us what settlement has taken place on the 150 miles of railway already constructed from Port Darwin to Pine Creek. He did not say that people are settled along that line engaged in cultivating the land, or that the traffic upon it was a paying traffic. We have not heard that any of the experts who have been quoted have asserted that there is any settlement along that line. We know that the country between Pine Creek and the Katherine River is a dry belt which is not suitable for close settlement, and the fact is that .we are being asked to add 56 miles to an existing railway of 150 miles on which there is no settlement. Honorable senators are well aware that in the case of all the railways in the different States carried from the coast inland the country through which they were taken was settled and occupied by thousands of people before the lines were constructed. The southern and western line in Queensland was constructed first from Ipswich to Toowoomba. The section from Ipswich to Brisbane was constructed much later, but when the line was built from Ipswich to Toowoomba there were thousands of farmers settled above and below the main range. Here we are asked to add a section to an existing railway of 150 miles along which there is not a single settler, despite the advantage of railway communication.

Senator Chataway - The Government have an experimental station at Rum Jungle.

Senator SAYERS - What good is it? Has it done any good at all?

Senator McDougall - It has not yet -had any chance to do good.

Senator SAYERS - Who are to be taught by the experiments carried on there? Surely before the country is put to the expense of conducting experimental stations there should be some people in the -district who will be able to take advan tage of the experiments if they are successful ?

Senator de Largie - How many people were there in Papua when the party opposite established a similar station there?

Senator SAYERS - In Papua there were, at all events, natives who had been accustomed to cultivate the land. The Papuans are not like the natives of Australia, who do no cultivation. Senator McDougall tells me that the experimental station at Rum Jungle has not been established long enough to do any good, but I should like to know how the Government propose to induce people to go to the district to take advantage of the operations carried out at the experimental station. Throughout the history of this, I was going to say political, job, there has been no attempt made to settle people in the Northern Territory. The Government have no policy of development, or if they have they decline to take the Parliament into their confidence. We have a right to demand from them that they shall state their policy, and say how they propose to settle the Territory. The South Australian Government carried on experiments in the Northern Territory for oyer forty years, a period longer than the life of some of the States, and surely the knowledge they acquired should be at the disposal of the Federal Government. We have taken over the Territory, and intend to pay South Australia for it some time, and surely we took over then all the official papers and documents relating to its management by the South Australian Government. A man buying a business from another as a going concern is given all information connected with it, and I take it that the Commonwealth Government are now in possession of all the information concerning the experiments carried on by the South Australian Government in _ the Northern Territory for the last forty years. Apparently that is not enough for them. They must have experiments of their own, and we must let the people judge for themselves whether they are taking the proper course. We have taken over the debt on the Territory, and the Government propose further expenditure at the cost of the taxpayers, and the people must decide whether their action is judicious or not. I suppose it will not matter what honorable senators on this side have to say on this question, but it is our duty as members of the Opposition to demand that the Government shall say what they intend to do. They should come forward with a comprehensive policy of development. The Territory should not be allowed to remain in stays for the next forty years as it did under the South Australian Government. Surely the Government have some scheme of development in their minds.

Senator Guthrie - What is the Opposition policy?

Senator SAYERS - It will be announced when the Opposition are in a position to carry it into effect. I am not like Senator Guthrie, who sits dumb when his party is in power. If the Opposition were in power to-morrow, and introduced such a Bill as this, I should vote against it unless they were able to give the Senate and the country the information required in connexion with it. It is all very well for Senator Guthrie to ask what is the Opposition policy. Let us know what is his policy, if he ever had any. I did not come into the Senate tied hand and foot, and pledged to support any one man or any one party.

Senator McGregor - Was the honorable senator not at the caucus yesterday?

Senator SAYERS - I do not belong to a caucus, as Senator McGregor does. On the platform I said that if I went into the Senate I should have a free hand. I have a free hand, and if this Bill were, in my opinion, in the interests of the country, I should support it. It is not fair to the people that public money should be expended when they are not taken into the confidence of the Government with respect to their policy. If the Government put forward a broad, comprehensive policy for the settlement and development of the Northern Territory, and proposed to expend money judiciously for the purpose, I should be prepared to support them, although I was opposed to the taking over of the Northern Territory. Now that it has been taken over by the Commonwealth we must make the best of it It is for the Government to show that they propose to spend the public money in its development to the best advantage. When the Minister was introducing the Bill he did not seem to think that there was any great advantage to come from its enactment. The only thing we can see is that we are being asked to spend some money, and that, instead of decreasing the annual loss on the Territory, this line will for a number of years increase the cost of its administration, because there is no traffic to be carried on it when it is constructed, and we shall have to provide the salaries for the officials and the interest on the outlay. No hope is held out to the country that the line will be self-supporting. If the Vice-President of the Executive Council could show that this extension of 56 miles would increase the earnings on the present length of 150 miles, and that there are people to travel along the line, the position, would be different. But what traffic car* 1,000 persons in the Territory provide?" If they were all to travel, how could they pay for the working of 200 miles of railway? We have not been shown where the people are to come from who will use the line, but we have been told that, in the dim and distant future, there may becattle carried. I do not blame the men; who are living there, and have a station or two, for trying to get the Government to extend the railway if it will save them only £10 a year. When the Government decided to undertake this work, they should! have come here with a comprehensivepolicy, which we each could put before thecountry with this statement, " I supported the measure, believing that the Government were doing good," but to ask us to passa Bill like this without voicing a protest against it is, I think, asking too much. I intend to oppose the proposal, and any other scheme of this nature, until the Government bring down a comprehensive policy, showing us what they intend to do with themoney, and how the expenditure will, benefit the whole of the community.

Senator CLEMONS(Tasmania) [11.33j. - If the statements that have been made m< support of the Bill are to be taken by theSenate as an indication of the expenditure on railway construction in the NorthernTerritory, I am afraid that I shall be forced' to the conclusion that the Commonwealth, has taken over a luxury in the Territory which, with all its wealth, it cannot afford' to keep. We all know that constructionmust inevitably follow the survey of a line. The figures which have been given, during this debate in connexion with construction have amazed me. I know a little, possibly not more than any other honorable senator knows, about the cost of building railways. But when I am told, leaving out for the moment some expenditure on a large bridge, that this line of 56 miles isestimated to cost ^500,000, I venture tosay that it will be one of the most expensive railways in this Commonwealth.

Senator Findley - Because of the white ants, we must use steel sleepers.

Suggest corrections