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Friday, 27 September 1912

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) . -This is a very important Bill, and I feel it incumbent upon me to explain why I intend to support it. We have taken over the Northern Territory at very great cost to the taxpayers of Australia. Having taken it over, the obligation is cast upon us to make it a payable Territory as soon as possible. It can be made payable only by opening it up. We know that great diversity of opinion exists as to which is the best method of developing it. Yesterday afternoon we heard a speech from Senator Symon in opposition to this Bill, because he contends that the proper way to develop the Northern Territory is by extending the line from Oodnadatta northwards.

Senator Vardon - Hear, hear !

Senator O'KEEFE - Senator Vardon, by his interjection, approves of that policy. Last night, too, we had a very interesting speech on the same lines from Senator Story., I agree very largely with the views which have been expressed by these representatives of South Australia. In developing any remote country, experience teaches us that we should attack it from the base which is nearest to us. To begin to develop the Northern Territory from the north will be a very expensive method of procedure. But I do not see why the short extension of the line which is proposed in this Bill should be regarded as being opposed to the development of the Northern Territory from the south. It is a question of money.

Senator Vardon - It is a question of policy.

Senator O'KEEFE - It is a question of policy, which means that very largely it is a question of money. The Northern Territory must be developed, if only for defence purposes, which constituted the primary reason why the Commonwealth took it over. The obligation rests upon us to develop it as soon as possible, and in the best way possible. We are thus face to face with this question, " Can we delay its development until we are prepared to authorize the construction of the transcontinental line the entire distance from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek?" I do not agree with Senator Clemons that that undertaking will cost anything like the amount which he estimates.

Senator Clemons - The honorable senator says that it will not cost £[10,000,000.

Senator O'KEEFE - Senator Clemons,like myself, can obtain his information only from the records which are available, from the reports of experts, and from the opinions which have been expressed by those who have crossed this country. Seeing that the distance between Oodnadatta and Pine Creek is just about the same as that between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta, and that, according to the latest estimate, the construction of the latter line will cost only £4,000,000 or .£5,000,000, I fail to see how the former is going to cost £10,000,000. Those who are familiar with the country between Pine Creek and the Katherine River agree that that will be the most expensive portion of the transcontinental line which we have to construct. I am informed that the building of that particular portion of the line will cost an' abnormal sum per mile. From the Katherine River to Oodnadatta, however, the country traversed is of such an easy character that the construction of a line through it will cost about the same amount per mile as will the construction of the line from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta. Are honorable senators opposite prepared to support an expenditure of £4,500,000 for this main trunk line right away? I do not think they are. I am sorry that the Government have not seen their way clear, for financial reasons, to bring down a scheme for the construction of the through line, which must be built in the comparatively near future. I hope to vote for such a proposal next session, no matter what party may be in power. But we cannot get away from the fact that the Northern Territory is going to cost us £274,385 in the ensuing year. The expenditure last year was £248,316.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - What is the estimated revenue?

Senator O'KEEFE - The revenue is a negligible quantity. We have made a very fair start. The Territory has to be developed, but we cannot do everything at once.

We have heard a good deal of abuse of the Government from Senator Sayers. He said that all they want to do is to create a number of fat billets for their friends. An honorable senator who gets up and talks that kind of stuff is wasting our time. We should give each other credit for being sincere in our desire to develop the country, no matter what party we support. No Government, I am satisfied, would be mad enough to create billets for their friends in the Northern Territory. The Government have only made appointments where they were necessary. They may be expensive appointments, but if officers have to be sent up at all, I do not believe in a pennywiseandpoundfoolish policy. The Government were justified in appointing those whom they considered to be the best men for the positions they were to fill. They cannot afford to do more in the way of expenditure on the Territory at pre-, sent. Otherwise, I am satisfied that they would have proposed a railway from the south forthwith. But the line now proposed to be built is, at all events, one link in the through railway which must be constructed if this Parliament is to keep faith with South Australia. We must keep to the agreement, not only in the letter, but in the spirit. I earnestly hope that next year we shall be able to consider the question of a survey for a line right through. In the meantime, I feel compelled to support this proposal. This piece of railway will have to be made in any case. We have been told by the Government that there is a good deal of squatting country which will be opened up if this link is built. I hope that will prove to be the fact. I am not capable of expressing an opinion as to whether the freezing works should be at Port Darwin or on the Katherine. Looking at the matter from the point of view of the little knowledge I have, it appears that Port Darwin ought to be the most suitable place, at all events for some years to come, because it would cost a great deal more to establish the works on the Katherine. Those who are inclined to oppose the Bill ought to look at the matter from the point of view that the railway is a necessary link in a line which will ultimately come right through from Port Darwin to Port Augusta. The building of it does not remove from this Parliament the responsibility for authorizing the through line at the earliest possible moment, and beginning the work from the south end. For these reasons, I shall support the Bill.

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