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Wednesday, 20 May 1914

Senator GARDINER - Exactly. As we have had some figures placed before us, I would like to quote the cost of railway construction in Queensland, because the figures are always interesting. According to the Queensland Ilansard of the 25th September, 1912, when Supply was being asked for, a statement on the subject was made by the Secretary for Railways in these words -

I am handing in, for the information of honorable members, "a return prepared in 1897 for the then Chief Engineer of all railways built by him under contract between 1881 and 1893. "The total expenditure was £5,491,720, the mileage 1,144.94, and the average cost per mile £4,796.

This return includes all railways built between 1881 and 1896 in the southern division, a few in the central division, but none in the northern division, as the central division was only taken over by the then Chief Engineer in 1887, and the northern division in 1892.

A return has been prepared by mc of all railways built by day labour since its inception in 1900 up to 1911.

The total expenditure was £3,413,249, the mileage 1,144.59, and the average cost per mile £2,982."

Eleven hundred miles of Queensland railways were completed, lock, stock, and barrel, under the day-labour system at the rate of £2,962 per mile, or, roughly, £1,000 a mile less than Mr. Teesdale Smith is getting for throwing up earthworks, especially if we leave out of the calculation the 3A miles of earthworks which he threw up at a cost of under £700. Here is a chance afforded to us, from the contractor's stand-point, of measuring the value of the work on this line. Mr. Teesdale Smith gets 45s. a chain for the embankments on level country, or the cuttings if they are about a foot deep, and the embankments on which they lay the sleepers are about a foot high. One can safely say that in every yard of railway there are two yards of material if the embankments are a foot high. We can safely say, too, that there are more than 45 yards of material in each chain of formation, and if that quantity is done for 45s., roughly, it is a shilling a yard for that kind of work, and it is good money to pay for it, too. That is a fair estimate of the cost of the line from Port Augusta. All these cuttings that can be ploughed and scooped out and thrown from the cutting right on to the embankment with shovels, when levelling off at the bottom, can be easily done at that price. I may tell Mr. Kelly that I based my figures on that price when I said that the contractor would make £1,000 a week for his trouble.

Senator Senior - Under day labour it can be done for 15s. lOd. a chain.

Senator GARDINER - As the honorable senator interjects, on this line that kind of formation has been completed at 15s. lOd. a chain. There is no getting away from these facts. Although Mr. Teesdale Smith is getting three times per chain what it would cost to do the work with day labour, he is still getting the exorbitant price of 4s. 6d. a yard for the cuttings and 2s. 6d. a yard for depositing the material. In the electorate represented by Mr. Kelly, who gave this contract to Mr. Smith, I can get a load of pure sand delivered for 2s. 6d., and the supplier may have several miles to go for the load; but Mr. Kelly is too big a man to know anything of this. In a recent debate he was referred to as a man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It would not surprise me to hear that he was born with a silver shovel in his mouth, because ' he appears to have inherited a good deal of love for the contractors. Im Queensland the average cost of railway construction per mile between 1881 and 1893 was £2,982. The return continues -

This return includes all railways built throughout the State during these years. The total difference in expenditure is £2,078,471 in favour of day labour.

The average cost per mile is £1,814 per mile in favour of day labour.

A list of the railways is given, and the actual cost per mile is stated. I will content myself with citing a few cases to buttress my statement that Mr. Teesdale Smith is making at least £1,000 a week on his contract.

Senator Lynch - Under day labour in Queensland during the last few years they have paid much higher .wages than were ever paid under contract.

Senator GARDINER - Yes ; they have paid excellent wages, I understand.

Kilkivan-Coolabunia, 55 miles, £2,652 per mile.

Esk-Colinton, 16 miles, £2,686 per mile. Redbank and Bundamba Loops, 6 miles, £2,568 per mile.

Degilbo-Wetheron, 21 miles, £1,800 per mile.

The print is really too small for me to read, but a list of the railways constructed by day labour in Queensland may be seen on page 1292 of Hansard, vol. 112. It shows the cost of constructing a railway - lock, stock, and barrel - and I believe that in some cases the rolling-stock is included in the figures. But the Commonwealth Government let a contract for earthworks at £3,700 a mile where there is nothing else to do but to dig out the cutting and dump the earth into the embankment - no culverts to be made, no bridges to be constructed. The Government have to put in the smallest culvert. When Mr. Teesdale Smith bought up their camels to carry the Monier pipes, the Government found that he could "simply leave his banks ready for the culverts to come in, because they had no camels. He bought two teams. I said that he paid £680 and £610, and Senator Millen pointed out that they were worth only £340 each. The difference is, to some extent, accounted for by the fact that there were sixteen camels in each lot that Mr. Smith purchased, and, as he makes the camels into teams of ten, so far as price is concerned we need not dispute as to what they cost. What do honorable senators think of the business capacity of the Government who, having engaged a plant to carry their stores, as soon as they let a contract to a contractor, immediately put him in the position of doing what any other business man would do, and that is buying the camels over their heads, and leaving them to wait or to go elsewhere to get camels to carry their goods and other requisites? The Government have put up several excuses for letting this contract. The first excuse they offered was that time was the essence of the contract, but that is shown not to be the case by the report of the officer who said that he invited several men to visit the line and give him a price. The next excuse of the Government was that Mr. Teesdale Smith had a huge plant waiting, and therefore he could do the work quickly, but that is disproved by the fact, as the correspondence bears out, that he had only fifty horses when he started the contract.

Senator Senior - And they were 400 miles away.

Senator GARDINER - But even after he had been working on the contract for some time he had only fifty horses, because when Mr. Kelly cancelled the contract by wire he sent word back that he then had 110, having purchased sixty additional draught horses. What is the use of talking about the contractor having a huge plant idle and a chance to get the work done quickly? The third point is that even when the contract time was up on the 9th May, the plates that have been laid by the Commonwealth Government were not" within 10 miles of portion of the contract. So far as my information goes, and I believe it to be correct, .on the 9th May the railway plates were at the 82-mile peg. The contract began 10 miles from that peg. Yet time was the essence of the contract. If we have proved all the statements of Ministers to be wrong, does this Government, which came in to restore responsible government and set a better example, intend to continue to sit idly in their place, and think that the public are going to take them at their face value, and not put some construction on their actions? The most serious thing which Mr. Kelly has to explain is why he cancelled the second part of the contract, and let it be remembered that this was done before Mr. Fisher made any reference to the matter. Mr. Kelly says it was done weeks or months before thatevent. There must have been some reason for Mr. Kelly taking a most drastic action. My opinion on a matter of law may not be worth much, but here is Mr. Kelly, in his off-hand way, saying, " We cancelled the rubber stamp I put on the agreement." I would like to know if the Minister believes that it does cancel the rubber stamp ?

Senator Guthrie - Does the AttorneyGeneral think so ?

Senator GARDINER - I have not heard the Attorney-General's opinion on this contract, but I have read the statements of all the men who are interested in it. Mr. Deane 'drafted the contract, and Mr. Saunders was present when the oral arrangement was made. Mr. Deane, Mr. Saunders, and Mr. Teesdale Smith gave one version of the matter, and that was that the Minister consented to it, and the Minister's rubber stamp on the contract furnishes the proof that he did.

Hero we have a Government indolently drifting into a lawsuit, or into the purchase of Mr. Smith's plant at such a figure that it will relieve him of any expenditure in connexion with the construction of the railway. I only want now to touch on the question of tlie plant. If the railway is to he continued, the camels Mr. Smith has purchased will be necessary, and the acquisition of the water pipes he has laid will be a good bargain for the Government to make, because otherwise they will have to lay fresh pipes or cart water 4 miles over sandy country. There is no extraordinary expenditure on the part of Mr. Smith which justified the statement of Mr. Kelly that time was the essence of the contract.

Senator Senior - And that it was the expense of getting water there.

Senator GARDINER - I admit that there was difficulty in getting water, but- 110 extraordinary difficulties had to be grappled with. It was the ordinary difficulty of carting the water for 4i miles from the beginning of the contract. Camels were used for the purpose, and they carry a pannier on each side which holds 30 gallons. Each camel, therefore, would carry 60 gallons; and the water could be carted almost as cheaply as it is carted from a creek up to cuttings on ordinary railways. Mr. Teesdale Smith appeared to think that lie had a right to get the contract at a price sufficiently high to enable him to set the whole value of his plant against the contract, and that the people of the Commonwealth should pay for it. The more he gets for the plant when he sells it, the more he will make out of the contract, witu £4,000 or £5,000 besides. If it be true, as Senator Millen has said, that Mr. Smith's plant is worth £11,000. and he is going to make £4,000 ov £5,000 besides, I venture to say that, according to Mr. Smith's own statement, my estimate that he would make £1,000 a week for every week he was engaged on the contract will not be very far out. I rose to speak chiefly on the subject of the railway contract, because I have tried to make myself acquainted with the facts. I say that no worse bargain was ever made for the people of the Commonwealth by any Government in letting a contract: and no more reckless methods of dealing with contracts were ever adopted than are shown by the papers that have been adopted in this case. There appears to have been no management in the business at all. So far as the Government are concerned, the whole thing rests upon the fact that an inexperienced Minister, who was without any knowledge of what it costs to construct railways, was allowed by his chief, Mr. Cook, the real Minister of Home Affairs, to enter into negotiations with the contractor in the presence of engineers. I do not wish to infer that there were any secret meetings with the contractor. One very good reason why I am careful never to infer anything like that is that there is no means of proving: it. No opportunity is afforded to any one to prove the holding of secret interviews.

Senator Mullan - The suppression of' Timms' offer seems very " fishy."

Senator GARDINER - Mr. Timmsevidentlymade an effort to get a share in, the work, or to be allowed to send in prices for it; but, unfortunately, he was* shut out through the forgetfulness of th& late Engineer-in-Chief.

Senator Stewart - Did Mr. Deanereally forget ?

Senator de Largie - It was not th& forgetfulness of the Engineer-in-Chief:,, but the cuteness of Mr. Teesdale Smith.

Senator GARDINER - So far as the late Engineer-in-Chief is concerned, as Senator Rae has said, we have all forgotten something at some time; but if the. Government had adopted the system oft calling for tenders there could have been no question of forgetfulness. A daywould have been fixed for the receipt of all tenders, and every man who put in. a> tender in accordance with the conditions: would have had it considered. It is im this respect that the Government havefailed. That is a serious charge against them. They have put words into themouth of the Governor-General to indicate that it is their intention to introduce a Bill to prevent preference to unionists, or favoritism; and yet, according to thepapers that have been tabled in connexion with this contract, they have themselves been guilty of gross favoritism in the letting of - it, and of giving one contractor preference over another. They have been proved guilty of the favoritism of inviting certain gentlemen who had experience of this kind of work to inspect the railway that they might put in prices, and whilst Mr. Falkingham and' one or two others were inspecting therailway, every other contractor in theCommonwealth might have had the plans and specifications before him, so that he would have an opportunity of entering a tender for the construction of the work.

Senator de Largie - Falkingham , was a dummy, I believe.

Senator GARDINER - So far as the contractors are concerned, I have no quarrel with them. It is the nature of all contractors, when they see the chance, to secure a fat contract to get pickings out of it. I am blaming the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Joseph Cook, who, during the whole debate upon this question - I will not say remained silent, because he did say a word or two in defence of Mr. Kelly - should have been defeuding himself. He holds the responsible position of Minister of Home Affairs, whilst Mr. Kelly is merely the Assistant Minister. Cook hides behind Kelly, Kelly behind Deane, and Deane behind a bad memory. So the hiding process goes on, until it is impossible to say who the real culprit is. We never shall find these things out until we have men sent to Parliament who will not merely boast of their freedom, but will give effect to it by their actions. The members of the party opposite boast that they do not necessarily follow their leader, but, by some strange coincidence, they appear to be unanimously of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with this contract. They said so in another place, and I have no doubt when we come to the vote here, the whole of the party on the opposite bench - and I use the expression in the widest sense, because there ave not many of them--

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator means the whole three of them.

Senator GARDINER - Yes; the whole three of them will be found supporting the Government. We have proved beyond dispute that an extravagant price was being paid to the contractor. They do not defend the position of the Government, because they cannot do so, but they will vote solidly for the Government who lead them, because they have to do so. They will further have the effrontery a week hence to go upon a public platform and accuse honorable senators on this side of being bound by the caucus pledge to act solidly together. What is the strange tie which makes those who claim to be independent men act and think alike upon matters of this kind ?

Senator Lynch - They have to do what the press tells them.

Senator GARDINER - The press is one of the slave-drivers of the party opposite, but we on this side do not fear the press. I am told that some of the party opposite have stopped taking the Aye since Saturday morning last. The Aye flogs them when it suits; and when they think there is a chance of injuring us, the writers of the Aye turn their guns upon the party on this side. The Teesdale Smith contract has not been justified by any statement of a member of the Government or of a supporter of the Government. I said earlier in my remarks that the saddest feature of Mr. Kelly's defence is that upon reading it the more you feel disposed to say that Mr. Kelly is not to blame, the more the conclusion will force itself upon you that the late Engineer-in-Chief is. That is a false position for any Minister to put a public servant in. Mr. Kelly became aware that there was something wrong about the business even before Mr. Fisher heard anything about it. That is shown by the fact that he wrote a certain minute to his officers in which he uses the expression " on account of irregularities." He has not yet made public what those irregularities were. There is proof throughout the papers that there is something still being kept back in connexion with this contract which the general public know nothing about. We had Mr.' Kelly wiring to know, the cost from the 69A-mile when he knew that there were hard cuttings for the next 5 miles, with the hope that the information would justify what had been- done. I thank honorable senators for the patience with which they have listened to my remarks. I shall vote with Senator Rae on the amendment he has submitted. I think it is up to us to censure the Government. We ought, of course, to thank His Excellency the Governor-General for the Speech, but we should censure his Ministers. I point out that the Government are deserving of censure in another respect, for having used the opening Speech to put their platitudes into the mouth, of the Governor-General, and make him say that one of the Bills they intend to introduce is to prevent preference and favoritism to unionists. It is bad enough for Ministers to say that kind of thing, and they should not have made the Governor-General speak in that way..

This is another glaring example of the way in which the present Government intend to restore responsible government. During the election campaign I used to feel annoyed on reading the speeches of members of the opposite party, but I begin now to think that they did not know any better, that they are doing the best they can, and ought to be pitied rather than blamed. So far as legislation is concerned, they have proved to be a failure. They have never attempted to carry out one of the promises they made to the public. The press gag was to be removed from the Electoral Act, but the Government have never introduced a Bill to remove it. The cost of living was to be brought down. I could go into the electorates and bring a number of placards inviting the electors to vote for the Liberal candidate and cheaper living. What have the Government done to make living cheaper? The farmers were appealed to to "Vote for the Liberal candidates, the friends of the farmer." The Government have been nearly twelve months in office, and what have they done for the farmers? There was a measure in connexion with which we were willing to assist them, but they have laid it aside in the hope that they can still fool the farmers into supporting them. When have the members of the Liberal party been the friends of the farmers'? When the referenda "proposals were being discussed in the country, the people were told that there were no trusts and combines to be dreaded in the Commonwealth. Now the Government are beginning to realize that there are trusts and combines, and that they are dipping a little more deeply into the pockets of the people. They propose to introduce some namby-pamby legislation to prevent it. It is as well to wait for results before prophesying, but I venture to say that honorable senators opposite will have great difficulty in explaining to the levelheaded farmer how it is that the farmers' friends have done nothing whatever to assist them during their term of office. From every platform they stated that the Government were going to reduce the cost of living, and though they have had nearly twelve months of office, they have made no move in that direction.

Senator de Largie - How could they, when the Senate threw out all their Bills ?

Senator Oakes - Hear, hear!

Senator GARDINER - From the way in which Senator Oakes cheered that ironical interjection, I have not the slightest doubt that that is the line the party opposite will take in order to again mislead and fool the people. They will say that we threw out their legislation. But I challenge the Government now, as I did last December, to bring forward legislation to make living cheaper. I doubt whether there is any more vicious party fighter on this side than I am, but whilst I am a strong party man, I say that if the Government will introduce legislation to make living cheaper I shall support it. If they will introduce legislation to make the lot of the farmer better I shall support that. They are, however, snug in office, and sitting comfortably upon the Treasury bench, and we now hear no talk from them of legislation to improve the condition of the farmer, or to make living cheaper. Let Senator Oakes visit the great city of Sydney in the State that he represents, and compare the price of meat to-day with what it was when he was elected to this Parliament.

Senator Oakes - The honorable senator forgets that there is a Labour Government installed in that State.

Senator GARDINER - I recognise that, and I tell the honorable senator that if the Labour Government in the State Parliament to-morrow introduced legislation to deal with the Beef Trust, beef would become a very dear commodity in New South Wales.

Senator Oakes - According to Mr. Page, a member of the Labour party in another place, that is not so.

Senator GARDINER - I do not know what Mr. Page has said. The honorable senator is raising a side issue. I remember that when he was addressing the Senate, and quoting speeches said to have been made by Mr. Fisher, Senator Turley time after time asked him to give the date of the speeches. The honorable senator said, " I will do so later on." I hope that when he is replying he will, for the sake of his own reputation, give us the date of those speeches.

Senator Oakes - I think I shall oblige the honorable senator.

Senator GARDINER - I do not wish to drift into another speech, as I think it ie about time the Senate adjourned after its arduous duties to-day.

Senator Oakes - The honorable senator has done very well.

Senator GARDINER - After that admission from the honorable senator, I shall sit down at once.

Debate (on motion by Senator Buzacott) adjourned.

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