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Wednesday, 2 October 1912


Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - I think that members of the Opposition may well congratulate themselves upon some aspects of the debate which has taken place upon this Bill. When the Budget was under consideration, I pointed out that, in respect to the Government's large commitments on railway development in Australia, not a single ray of light had been thrown upon where the money was to come from.


Senator Stewart - It will come from heaven, as the manna did.


Senator ST LEDGER - We cannot trust to thai kind of thing nowadays. As the debate has proceeded, it has become abundantly clear .that the Ministry cannot retain their present positions unless they accurately define what is their policy in this respect. It was quite refreshing to hear Senator Russell declare that he does not mind borrowing for the purpose of developing the Northern Territory by means of a transcontinental railway.


Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Did the honorable senator ever hear me declare myself in favour of any other policy?


Senator ST LEDGER - That is not the point. I said it was quite refreshing to hear a supporter of the Government making such a clear declaration on this subject. Unless the policy suggested by the honorable senator be carried out immediately, this Bill will prove absolutely useless. The money which we are asked to expend upon the proposed survey of a line from Pine Creek to the Katherine River, unless followed up by practical action of a fairly extensive kind, might as well be put in a bag, given in charge of the Treasury officials, and thrown into the Yarra. From that point of view I welcome the criticism of Senator Russell, and that of Senator de Largie. Another thing which must strike every honorable senator is that while we have been talking about the development of the Northern Territory from many points of view during the last six years, and while we expected much to be done, the result is that the mountain which has been in labour has brought forth only a ridiculous mouse. Why have we this Bill before us at all ? If the Government were satisfied that the railway is required immediately, a survey being essential to its construction, they could easily have put a sum of money upon the Estimates for the purpose. They could have secured the survey by Executive act. They could in this way have obtained estimates of the cost of the line and of the probable revenue, which would have been useful to Parliament. A Bill was not required for that purpose. When the survey has been made Parliament will not be precluded from refusing to build the line. The Bill is, under the circumstances, an example of dangling projects before Parliament and the people, not with the object of developing Australia, but for the purpose of balancing and gerrymandering various sections and parties in Parliament and the country.


Senator Stewart - What is the meaning of gerrymandering?


Senator ST LEDGER - Any ordinary dictionary will enlighten the honorable senator. We have heard of political railways in Australia. We have heard of railways being built as baits to sections and parties. We hoped that if the Commonwealth Government ever went in for a railway policy the devices that have been resorted to in various States would not be repeated here. But we all know that this railway has been dangled before parties for a considerable time past. The lamentable fact is that we have not yet had a Government bold enough and strong enough to declare a strong policy upon this subject. It is time this sort of thing ended. We ought no longer to. gamble on political exigencies in regard to railway policy. Whenever the Northern Territory is brought up for consideration the strong claims of South Australia for special consideration are always brought before us. I have on more than one occasion said by way of comment, that South Australia appears before us in this matter as somewhat of a sturdy and insistent beggar. I do not wish to go into the past. South Australia has a right to be considered, because, undoubtedly, she has done the pioneer work in the Northern Territory. She has drawn considerably upon her own resources and incurred a large debt.


Senator de Largie - She is not responsible for that now.


Senator ST LEDGER - Certainly not. The Commonwealth in its relations with South Australia has discharged every obligation. If that State has done good work in the past, we can now claim that thi. Commonwealth and South Australia are quits. The subject must be considered in future from an entirely different point of view. No single State has a lien upon our policy; no State can dictate that policy. Our policy must be determined from the point of view of what is best for all Australia.


Senator Shannon - Quite right.


Senator ST LEDGER - I am glad to hear that admission. *


Senator Shannon - South Australia is only a part of the Commonwealth.


Senator ST LEDGER - Sometimes when the patriotism of South Australia is voiced, one would think that we were bound hand and foot to the policy of the past; indeed, to any policy that South Australia might choose to dictate. The building of the railway of which this survey is a preliminary step, does not, fortunately, involve determining the route of future extensions. I do not think that either South Australians or Queenslanders will oppose the Bill. In the future it will have to be determined whether the railway shall be built to the Queensland border or north and south. The portion of the route now proposed to be surveyed will, in any case, be an infinitesimal step in either direction. It is not what either South Australia or Queensland wants that ought to determine the bigger question, of which this is a beginning. That question is - what is the best railway to serve the interests of the whole of the States of the Commonwealth from a developmental point of view, as well as from the point of view of defence? The whole question must be considered to be an open one. I began by expressing satisfaction with the brave and wise speech delivered by Senator Russell. I now find myself in the position of complimenting Senator de Largie on some of the views which he has expressed. It is very seldom that I am able to compliment honorable senators opposite on the attitude they have taken up, and I therefore do so on this occasion with all the greater pleasure. Senator de Largie raised the important question of the settlement of the Territory. This survey, and the railway ultimately to be built, are ancillary to settlement by a white population - preferably a British population. Senator de Largie spoke about the qualities of a Southern Europe population. I assent very heartily to his general proposition, because I believe that there is prevalent a gross and ignorant misconception with regard to the possibilities of southern Europe as a recruiting ground for northern Australia. When many people in this country speak of Italians they think of the lazy lazzeroni of Naples, and of gangs of mafia conspirators. The average Britisher and Australian is reminded when one speaks of Spaniards only of cigarettes, stilettos, and the opera of Carmen. It is a huge mistake to imagine that people of Southern Europe are represented by the class of individuals indicated by such associations. Men who travel with their eyes open, and exercise an impartial judgment, are thoroughly conversant with the fact that some of the finest settlers that we have in Australia to-day, though they are comparatively few in number, are Italians, French, and Spaniards. I have met them everywhere in Australia. There is a type of Greeks and Italians who congregate in cities, and are generally employed as flunkeys or as waiters. But these do not represent the best of the people of Italy and Greece. Amongst the most closely cultivated districts in the whole of Europe to-day are districts of Italy, Greece, and Spain that are occupied by people who are a credit to every country to which they go.


Senator de Largie - That is the class whose immigration we should encourage.


Senator ST LEDGER - I agree that we should encourage such people to come to this country. We should instruct our agents in the Old Country to be watchful of such people, and not to send them away from the ship's side merely because they happen to come from Southern Europe. They should intelligently investigate their antecedents and their relations to agriculture in their own country. Surely Australia is wide enough to permit of the introduction of some of these people. When speaking on public platforms before I entered this Parliament, I frequently advocated the immigration of these people, and I found considerable difficulty in getting a hearing when expounding that policy. I was often howled down, because it was assumed that these people, if introduced, would settle in the towns, and come into competition with our own workers. In this connexion I might ask who it was that opened up in Queensland one of the richest fruit districts in Australia? I personally know the man who showed, by his inspiring example, what might be done in the cultivation of fruit in the Stanthorpe district, which is one of the most flourishing districts in Queensland to-day. When travelling in the Werriwa district I found that the most successful fruit-growers there were an Austrian and his son. In the settlement of the Northern Territory the question of railway construction must be considered in conjunction with an immigration policy. It is of no use to talk about railway construction unless we consider at the same time a means to induce population to settle in the Territory. In considering the question of populating the Territory, we have to consider the most suitable class of immigrants for that portion of Australia. Senator de Largie was quite right when he pointed out that, in many respects, the Northern Territory is not the most suitable place in Australia to which to bring British and North European settlers, who have been accustomed to labour during long winters. No Government, I think, would contemplate the introduction to the Territory of Norwegians or Swedes. There would be great danger, if a first experiment in that direction failed, that that portion of Australia would be regarded as unsuitable for the settlement of a white population, and we should get another of the unfortunate advertisements which have done us so much injury in the past. In order to guard against the possibility of such a disaster - and the word is not used unadvisedly - it is absolutely necessary to very carefully select the people we bring to the Northern Territory. We must secure population for the Territory from outside, and an essential feature of our policy must be a stiffening of the population of the Territory by Australians. When Senator de Largie was speaking of the people of Southern Europe, there was evidently in his mind the idea of agricultural development in the Northern Territory. We all heartily desire to settle the Territory if possible with an agricultural population, which is the basis of permanent development in every direction. But the Government must fail to attract to the Territory a desirable class of agricultural settlers so long as they say to those who will be called upon to bear the heat and burden of a severe climate in the beginning of settlement there that, so long as they remain in the Territory, they can never hope to secure the freehold of the lands on which they are settled. I should not 'be permitted to debate that question at length, but if the Government are considering a policy of agricultural settlement along with a policy of railway construction in the Territory, they will certainly be driven, and the sooner the better, to reconsider that particular question. If at any time Senator de Largie can impose his policy on the Government, I think it will be found that the corollary to which at present he does not assent will be inevitable. Some honorable senators on the other side have referred to the long delay in the development of the Northern Territory. I think it was Senator Russell who said that the people of Australia are becoming anxious about this matter. They have been anxious about it for some time. With the exception, perhaps, of the Navigation Bill, we have had no greater stock subject of discussion in the Senate than the development by the Commonwealth of the Northern Territory. The present Government compliment themselves that they are the .first to do something practical in the matter. Yet, when we test their policy practically through this Bill, we find that they cannot give us a scintilla of light which carries us beyond a survey for 48 miles south-east of Pine Creek. After six years of laborious investigation, and more or less of discussion and arrangement with South Australia, with an overflowing Treasury, and greater opportunities than any previous Government ever enjoyed for commencing a vigorous developmental policy, the present Government are able to come down only with a proposal for a survey of 48 miles of railway. It is not possible to answer Senator Russell's criticism of this matter. Honorable senators have a right to know something definite about the policy of the Government as a whole. It is plain that they cannot, or dare not, make up their minds upon the matter. It is an insult to our intelligence to suggest this Bill as an expression of a policy in any form. If the Government desire the people of Australia to accept this measure as an indication of a policy, they merely insult their intelligence. The present and previous Governments have, in connexion with the development of the Northern Territory, said "nottpossimus" at every step. If that be so, it is somewhat remarkable that Australia, with her policy of State railway construction, is lagging behind Canada. As compared with us, Canada has displayed courage and resource, possibly because she has relied entirely upon private enterprise to carry out railway construction. 1 am not at liberty, in dealing with this Bill, to. go into that question, but 1 will say that the people 'of Australia will not be content with tinkering of thiskind. They will demand from the Government a clear and full expression of a policy which cannot be expressed in wretched railway Survey Bills of this kind. If the present or some future Government declare that they have not the necessary resources to carry out the development of the Northern Territory, no doubt the people 'of Australia will permit us to fall back upon the source of revenue which Canada has availed herself of with a large measure of success. I hope that no Government, by dillydallying or shilly-shallying in the future, as is indicated in this Bill, will drive any party, or the people of this community, to rely first and not last upon a policy of building railways entirely with the aid and under the ownership of the State. Arising out of this miserable, ridiculous mouse of a Bill, which has come forth after six years' labour, I do administer this warning to the Government, that they cannot go on in this way ; that if they do not come out with a bold policy, the people will send in another' Ministry, and insist that it shall bring downa clear policy. Either the Government cannot find the money-


Senator Mcdougall - The Fusion will never come back, according to that statement.


Senator ST LEDGER - According to a well-known authority, a politician who uses the word " never " is either an ass or something else. Very seldom do I use the word. I am merely pointing out what will be the course of events by reason of the past, and suggesting to the Government that they should consider the position very carefully, and should not exhaust the patience and the- intelligence of the House and the community with a tinpot measure of this kind. In introducing this Bill, the VicePresident of the Executive Council pointed out that it is also the beginning of a defence policy. It is part and parcel, not merely of an internal developmental policy, but also of a defence system. I wonder what the Minister of Defence thinks about the matter? How long will he, or any other Minister of Defence, be content with a railway ending at the Katherine River? I can imagine that nothing will give an enemy who has an eye upon Australia greater pleasure than to see the railway going into the Katherine River district as quickly as possible and stopping there; because the easiest way for an enemy to invade Australia and remain there would be to seize the railway and let it go no farther. Therefore, from the defence point of view, it is necessary that the Government's hand should be forced. It is of no use to go on with this tinpot railway. We have had tinpot navies, and mosquito fleets talked about in Australia time out of mind. We are, happily, beginning to build up a fighting Navy, and one of the greatest purposes of such a Navy will be the development, quickly and immediately, of the Northern Territory in some definite direction, beginning somewhere and ending somewhere; and a naval policy cannot be complete without it. With this proposed extension, the railway will end at Katherine River ; and what purpose, except as an infinitesimal portion of a transcontinental railway, is to be served, I cannot see. I intend to conclude my speech, because I think we shall hear more from the honorable senators from South Australia about the claims of that State for an extension of the railway to the south. And when we consider the claims of New South Wales and Queensland, I venture to suggest that the South Australian, and ether supporters of the through line north and south, do not know enough about the advantage of the route to make up their minds definitely. I venture to predict that, if the matter were put to a referendum to-morrow, there would be but one verdict. I am not going to say that it would be in favour of the route in the direction I desire the line very strongly to go; but I do say that it would be in favour of leaving the question very largely open. While I am not going to prove obstinate, or to prolong my opposition to this mouse of a Bill, I venture to say that the question of the route is still in the melting-pot of politics, and will have to be considered from top to bottom. Whenever the Government and the people of Australia are ready to come to a determination, the matter will have to be considered de novo in the full light of the knowledge we have at the present lime, and what we may get in the future.







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