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Friday, 27 September 1912

Senator BLAKEY (Victoria) .- When two honorable senators at the extreme poles of political thought, like Senators Chataway and O'Keefe, agree that it is absolutely essential for the development of the Northern Territory, and in the interests of the Commonwealth, that this Railway Survey Bril should be passed, I think that there is no need for further argument. I am pleased to think that the Bill will be passed, and that it will be one of the means of linking up the present terminus of the railway at Pine Creek with a fringe of good country on the Katherine River. As one who has recently had the experience, perhaps not exactly a pleasurable one, of traversing on horseback that stretch of country in the lonely north, I think that the Government are doing right, no matter what may eventually occur in connexion with the deviation of the line, in linking up Pine Creek with Katherine River, because, in my opinion, this is one of the first links in the chain which is to be forged, so to speak, to join the northern coast with the more populated portions in the south. At the Katherine River, I had a conversation with a man who had a station some miles to the southward, and who happened to be there with a mob of cattle. If I remember aright, he had the Elsey station, which is described so splendidly by Mrs. Gunn, in her book The Never Never. He said that he could get fat cattle as far as the Katherine River without them losing appreciably in condition, but that the intervening stretch of country between the river and Pine Creek was of so severe a character, and so lacking in grass and nourishment, that fat cattle deteriorated from that stage, and in a little time became stores. I think that if a line is constructed from Pine Creek to the Katherine River, and eventually taken right through the centre of the Commonwealth - down through the MacDonnell Ranges, and not pulled over to the east or to the west - it will be of great assistance to cattle-rearers, horse-breeders, and the settlers and the miners whom we hope to see sooner or later placed in the heart of the Territory.

Senator O'Keefe - The heart of Australia will be no good without them.

Senator BLAKEY - Not the slightest. Whether a man be in favour of extending the railway as Senator Chataway has advocated, not through South Australia, but over towards Camooweal and Cloncurry, or dragging the line over towards Wyndham in the north-west of Western Australia, I think that the construction of this length of 56 miles is one of the essentials. It is so to speak, the vertebra of the whole scheme. I think that Senator McDougall was wrong in the statement he made as regards the cost of bridging some of the rivers along the route of the proposed line. In my opinion, there is no comparison between a stream like the Ferguson, or the Cullen, or the Driffield, or the Philip, or the Edith, and the Katherine River, because the latter is a broad and magnificent stream, standing out almost as the Murray of the Northern Territory. We never had an opportunity of seeing the country for more than 200 miles from the coast. I anticipate that, when we get to the Katherine River, one of our chief items of expenditure will begin. « The overland telegraph line crosses the river with a span nearly a quarter of a [[11 1 e long. I have not had any experience in the building of bridges or railways, but T venture to predict that the cost of bridging the Katherine River will, owing to its great width and eccentricities in times of flood, be very heavy. Senator Chataway has said that all that the Government have done in connexion with opening up the Territory has been to appoint about ninety-five of their friends to various positions there. No matter what this Government may do, in the eyes of their critics and opponents they seem to do wrong. I have heard the Leader of the Opposition in another place expatiate with great eloquence upon the absolute necessity of spending, not pounds, but millions of pounds, in opening up what he vividly described as the Achilles heel of Australia, the vulnerable spot, the great empty north. Yet there are some members of the Opposition here who will say that, because we took the first step to place in the Territory the officials who are necessary for the carrying out of public works and the administration of various laws and regulations, we did wrong. We are told, in connexion with' the proposed railway, that appointments are being made by gross favoritism. I ask Senator Chataway, or any other member of the Opposition, if the gentleman who is in charge of the railway survey now, Mr. Francis, is by any means a supporter of the present Government? He has absolutely declared - and I give him credit for his opinion - that he is opposed to Labour in every shape and form. Yet we are told that all our appointments in the Territory are made with the view to having persons who are in favour of our policy. Mr. Francis - a gentleman for whom I have a personal regard - will be in charge of this survey, and will, 1 .think, do his work honestly and well. I have made these remarks in refutation of the statement made by Senator Chataway, that all the appointments of this Government are those of men who are supporters of its principles, and are pledged to legislation which it is in favour of.

Senator Chataway - As a matter of personal explanation, sir, I wish to say that I never made any such statement.

Senator BLAKEY - I have here a note of the honorable senator's remark that the Government had appointed ninety-five of its friends to official positions in the Northern Territory.

Senator Chataway - I never used the word " friends."

Senator BLAKEY - And Senator McGregor distinctly ' contradicted the statement.

Senator Chataway - He said that the appointments applied to the whole of the Commonwealth, or something to that effect. In short, that the Hansard proof is wrong.

Senator BLAKEY - I do not want to digress, but merely to point out that the appointments in the Northern Territory have not been made in a spirit of favoritism, nor are all the appointees supporters of the Labour party. I sincerely hope that, when the. survey of this extension is finished, and the necessary preliminary arrangements are made, the gauge of the existing railway from Darwin to Pine Creek will be altered to conform with the gauge proposed in connexion with the other railways which the Commonwealth has undertaken to construct. Personally, I would prefer a broader gauge, but Parliament has accepted the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge; and I think that when we are. laying the foundation-stone, as it were, of a great national line which will bisect the Commonwealth from north to south, we should go to the expense of relaying the existing lineof 146 miles from Darwin to Pine Creek on that gauge. I trust that the gauge will be at least 4 ft. 8½ in., and that we shall lay the foundation of a great national iron road which will traverse this country from north to south. This is one of the schemes which, in my opinion, is essential to the development of the Territory. I know that the expense involved in the enterprise will be considerable. But when we recollect that since the Commonwealth has taken over the Northern Territory it has been expending nearly £1,000per day upon it, it is necessary that we should chase our money, so to speak. It is of no use adopting a pennywiseandpoundfoolish policy in regard to this matter. We must be firm and bold in grasping the nettle of the Northern Territory, and bringing the interior of it into railway communication with our northern ports. I shall support the Bill.

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