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Thursday, 25 June 1914

Senator McCOLL (Victoria) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) . - I do not propose to follow the constitutional arguments, interesting, though they may be, that have been advanced, although there are any number of eminent men who could be quoted on the other side. A great deal of nonsense is being talked about the rights, of the Senate being taken away, and so forth; but, as a matter of fact, the Constitution is working exactly as its founders; anticipated and intended. To establish a Federal form of government the small States had to be brought into the Union, and in order that they might not be overborne by the larger States, equal representation in the Senatewas provided. On the other hand, in order to obviate the possibility of thesmall States dominating the other Chamber, which is the superior branch of the Legislature - holding, as it does, the control of the purse, and being vested with the power of making and unmaking Ministries - a safety-valve had to be provided, namely, that of the double dissolution. When Parliament becomes unworkable, the provision relating to the double dissolution comes into operation. Nobody can say that this Parliament is workable, and, therefore, effect is being given to the Constitution by sending both branches of it to the electors. For a party which mouths its love and affection for the people to exhibit such reluctance to face the electors as is exhibited by my honorable friends opposite, is very amusing indeed. However, I will not pursue that phase of the subject further. I wish, however, to call attention to one or two remarks made by Senator de Largie. He stated that the present Government had stopped works all over the country, and had thus created unemployment. I desire to show how incorrect is his statement. Let me take the case of the construction of the transcontinental railway, with a view to showing whether the Government have created unemployed. The Fisher Government controlled that line 284 days, and employed, on an average, 429 men; whereas the Cook Government controlled it 331 days, and employed, on an average, 851 men, or a little more than double the number. In the matter of platelaying, the Fisher Government laid 18 miles, at the rate of fifteen days per mile. The Oook Government laid 163 miles, at the rate of two days per mile. The Fisher Government surveyed 86 miles, at the rate of three days per mile; whereas the Cook Government surveyed 391 miles, at the rate of 1 mile per day.

Senator de Largie - So far as the survey is concerned, it is well known that before the late Government relinquished office the Western Australian end of the line had been surveyed for 100 miles, and on a new route at that.

Senator McCOLL - These figures have been made up carefully by the Department, and their accuracy cannot be challenged.

Senator de Largie - I challenge it. I know the country. They are utterly wrong.

Senator McCOLL - They are not. If he doubts their accuracy, the honorable senator may move for a return. In the matter of earthworks, the Fisher Government constructed 49 miles at the rate of five days per mile, whereas the Cook Government constructed 242 miles at the rate of two days per mile. I come now to the question of cost. Under the Fisher Government the cost of construction was from 30 to 50 per cent. higher than it is under the Cook Government.

Senator de Largie - The VicePresident of the Executive Council is talking upon a subject in regard to which he has absolutely no data.

Senator McCOLL - I repeat that the cost of construction under the Fisher Government was from 30 to 50 per cent. more than it is under the Cook Government. Later on I shall give the official figures in detail, because they are absolutely correct. Senator Pearce opened his remarks this afternoon by declaring that he intended to take this opportunity of showing up the sins of omission and commission of the Government. In other words, he intended to blacken the Ministry before an appeal is made to the country. Followed as he was by the Minister of Defence, I do not think he made much out of his attempt. Of course, the rank and file of the Opposition followed in a similar strain. Senator Gardiner spoke of the Teesdale Smith contract. During the last two months he has lived upon that contract, and so have other members of the Opposition. It is the only thing they have upon which to go to the country. Theyill probably find, however, that they are making a mistake. In letting that contract, there was only one object in view. I do not say that it was quite a wise thing to let it without calling for tenders. But the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs has accepted the fullest responsibility for his action. There were two points which had to be connected, and which were 14 miles apart.

Senator de Largie - Will the VicePresident of theExecutive Council answer just one question?

Senator McCOLL - I will not. I did not interrupt the honorable senator, and I do not wish to be interrupted. The platelaying plant at the eastern end of the transcontinental line was idle. There were forty men depending for employment upon that plant. The object of tha Government was to connect the two ends of the line as quickly as possible, in order that these men might be kept in employment. Accordingly, the work was regarded as one of urgency. It was pressed upon the Minister by the engineers as one of urgency. They assured him that the price quoted for the work by Mr. Teesdale Smith was a fair one, and, believing that it was, the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs let the contract. Now I would ask, " Have the public lost anything by reason of this contract?"

Senator Senior - Yes.

Senator McCOLL - They have not. When the accounts come to be squared up, it will be found that the Government have not made such a bad bargain as has been represented, and that the contractor has not made a great deal out of his contract. I merely desired to make this reply in contradiction of the statements which have been made here to-day.

Debate (on motion by Senator Newland) adjourned.

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