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Wednesday, 21 April 1915

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - One scarcely knows whether to bo thankful or otherwise to the Government for having given honorable senators an opportunity of discussing this matter, for if a good deal of criticism has been levelled at the Government for their administration of affairs, some little advice has been tendered to them also. I am doubtful, however, if the Government will benefit very much by the advice tendered, not because they might refuse to accept it, but because the advice has been of a somewhat unsatisfactory character. The Government have been severely criticised for many of their actions, particularly in the administration of the Defence Department, and, of course, living as we do in a warlike age, it is natural to expect that most people are thinking and talking more of warlike subjects than of any other. I presume, therefore, that it is natural that some time should be devoted to advising the Minister of Defence and his colleagues how this war should be conducted. I am not going to take up that line of argument, however, and I am not going to talk conscription, or advocate paying our Army, whether under- conscription or otherwise, at the " magnificent " rate of ls. 2d. per day. Personally, I would have no objection to conscription if that course were necessary, but I am confident that in Australia, and, indeed, throughout the whole British Empire, we are fully meeting the claims made upon us in connexion with this war by the voluntary system which has been adopted. It is right, proper, and wise that we should look to the possibility of conscription, but we are a very long way indeed from the necessity to adopt that course, and it is hardly fair at the present time that in the National Parliament of Australia any honorable senator should get up and voice for a moment even the suggestion of conscription in this country. It is a very poor compliment indeed to pay to the people of Australia, and a very poor compliment indeed to the men who are volunteering in large numbers, for we have the assurance of the Defence

Department that our young men are volunteering just as quickly as the Department can equip them ; and, indeed, quicker than they can be provided for. I do not know by what means Senator Bakhap would clothe or arm our men under the system he suggests. I remember, however, that in reading the history of my own country, at a- time when men went out to fight during the earlier ages, the question of clothing or armament received very little consideration. A kilt, a rag or two, was all their clothing; a' stick with a scythe blade tied to the end of it, a pitchfork or something of that kind was the weapon with which very often they went out to fight their neighbours' quarrels, or their own. Senator Bakhap, I hope, does not suggest that we should send our young Australians to the front armed in that way. But, if not, how are they to be sent? Our ammunition factory, our clothing factory, our boot factories, our saddle and harness factory, and, in fact, every factory dealing with the munitions and supplies for war purposes, are working at top speed, and yet we have men in our camps for weeks and, in some cases, months before they receive the necessary equipment. I am confident that if the men could be equipped and armed quicker than is the case to-day we would be able to muster our men more rapidly than at present. I deprecate exceedingly any honorable senator coming here- and advocating conscription, for the reports of his utterances will travel very quickly indeed. Probably even before today is over, the fact that conscription has been suggested in Australia will have been wired all over the world, and the report will be given greater prominence from the fact that it has emanated from a member of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia. I only hope, therefore, that the utterances of those of us who repudiate the idea will follow as quickly as possible on Senator Bakhap's suggestion, so that the world will know what is the opinion of the Senate on this subject. It is not my intention to find very much fault with the Defence Department, though there are some matters upon which I have ground for. complaint. But they are small compared with what the Department has been achieving. During the past few months there has been a tremendous strain upon the Department, and I realize that every man is doing a fair thing, from the Minister downwards, and I recognise also that the Minister and his officers want every encouragement that we can possibly give them, instead of condemnation for the small matters of complaint to which attention might be drawn. It will be much better if we do not bring these complaints into this chamber for ventilation through the public press. During this great crisis the Defence Department has proved itself capable of dealing with very big issues indeed, and though I have some small grievances I think the Department is entitled to the best thanks of this Parliament for what it has done. In addition to what has been done by our Army - and that seems to have been the subject of the honorable senator's condemnation - we ought not to forget our Navy. A few months ago every man and woman in Australia, I am sure, felt very much bigger as a result of the splendid work of our Navy. No doubt any criticism which Senator Bakhap levels at the Army on the subject of conscription can be applied also to the Navy. I do not know whether he purposes to give the men the option of joining the Army or the Navy, but I dare say that, if he did, he would find itnecessary to advocate the building of a great many more battleships to accommodate the young Australians who would be available for service. I repeat that the scheme of conscription suggested by my honorable friend is entirely unnecessary, and is not creditable to him at this juncture. I want now to refer to the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Millen. The honorable senator's remarks were favorable to the Government, but behind them there were suggestions of trouble to come. Senator Millen indicated that so long as the Government were prepared to go along on perfectly safe lines - and, by doing so, to break their pledges to the people of Australia, by delaying giving effect to the promises made at the last general election - he would support them. But the moment they commenced to put their pledges into effect we could look for trouble from that quarter. In spite of the fact that this fearful war is raging in Europe, and we are taking a very important part in the war, there is no reason why we should go to sleep upon our own domestic affairs. "We have the requirements of our own country to attend to.

Senator de Largie - Business is going on as usual.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is so. People are being born, married, and buried, and they have to be fed, clothed, -and provided for just as they were previous to the outbreak of war. The great Labour party were returned at the regent elections upon certain pledges and promises made to the people of Australia. When those promises and pledges were made the war was raging, and the people who returned the members of the Labour party to power were confident that the war would not interfere with the fulfilment of those promises and pledges. Our honorable friends opposite, now that we are in power, wish us to become opportunists, as they have themselves so frequently done, and to slide out of our promises to the people. I am satisfied that no such attempt will be made on the part of the present Government. I hope that, as we shall devote every attention that is necessary to the great question of prosecuting the war, we shall also devote all the attention that is necessary to our own domestic affairs. Whilst the big outside questions must necessarily occupy a great amount of our time, we should not neglect to give due regard to questions affecting the welfare of our people. In reply to honorable senators opposite, then, I say that the Labour party have no intention whatever to delay the fulfilment of the promises they made to the people of Australia during the recent elections. I wish to, deal now with the statement which has been placed before us by the Minister of Defence as leader of the Senate. Any unbiased person reading that statement, and certainly those portions of it which refer to the conduct of the war, and to the troops we have sent to Europe and are preparing for the front, must feel gratified to know what has been achieved. It is about eight months since the war broke out, -and, in the face of tremendous difficulties, we have since that time sent a great number of men to the front. I invite honorable senators, and the people generally, to calmly consider the forethought and the tremendous care which has been necessary in order that our Forces should be properly equipped and transported with perfect safety from Australia to the seat of the war. It must be admitted that this was the biggest undertaking in the way of the transport of troops that has ever been attempted in the history of the world. Yet an honorable senator on the other side is found to ask what this Parliament and the Government have done. Why, it can scarcely be said that the age of miracles is at an end when we consider that this tremendous undertaking has been successfully carried out by men who had no previous experience of such work.

Senator O'Keefe - T - They had plenty of common sense.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is what enabled them to pull through. This tremendous undertaking has been carried out without the slightest hitch or accident. Yet we are told by Senator Bakhap, who is supposed to know everything under the sun, that we have done absolutely nothing. When we come to consider what really has been done, the honorable senator's statement must, by its very extravagance, lose any weight it would otherwise have. I feel proud of the success which has attended the efforts of the Government in this direction. I am confident that if further troops are necessary, they will be sent with the same safety and despatch.

Senator Needham - It is to be hoped that very few more will be required.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I sincerely hope that very few more, will be required. While on the question of war, I should like to say that I think that a degree of secrecy has been observed in Australia with regard to the operations of the war that is quite unnecessary. The censorship has, in my opinion, been altogether too severe. Those of us who receive newspapers and correspondence from the Old Country are surprised at the amount of detail in connexion with the war which is published in them, in comparison with the very meagre information supplied to us in Australia. I think that there is no need for so much secrecy. I believe that there would not be the same lack of confidence on the part of the public generally if they knew more of what is really going on. If the Minister of Defence, within the bounds of safety, of course, can do anything to« relax the too strict censorship which exists at the present time, he will relieve the anxiety of many people who have relatives and friends at the front, and, I believe, will induce many to come forward and enlist who are now holding back. I hope that the Minister will be able to do something in this direction. The matter next in importance is, I think, the question of finance. We had the strange statement from Senator Bakhap that we in Australia are noi paying our share of the expenses of the war. He has said that we are borrowing the money from the British taxpayer, and from the British soldier who is in the trenches in Flanders to-day. That is an extraordinary statement, but it is in keeping with many of the curious things which the honorable senator said. We have borrowed money from the Imperial Government for a certain purpose in just the same way as we have borrowed money before. We are paying interest on the money, and w© shall repay the principal in the ordinary way, as we have done in connexion with any other loan. We are under no obligation to any persons for the money lent to us, and they are under no obligation to us for interest and principal, which will be paid as they fall due. It is a pure business transaction, profitable and agreeable to all the parties concerned. I am proud, as an Australian, to know that the men we are sending from the Commonwealth represent the best-paid Army in the world. We are all proud of the fact that there is no Army in the world today that is paid as well as our Forces are being paid, or for which, in the event of disaster or accident, such liberal arrangements are made for the injured or the dependents of those who are killed. All this goes to show that our financial arrangements are perfectly sound, and that the men who are risking their lives in the defence of the Empire are not being overlooked by those who are responsible for them. To a great extent we have to thank the Commonwealth Bank for the satisfactory nature of the financial position. This is an institution which we have heard denounced from time to time. Certain people have attempted to cripple and injure it, and to restrict its usefulness in one way or another. I have a lively recollection of a Bill which was sent up to the Senate last session, the intention of which was to injure the Commonwealth Bank. It was one- of the measures which the Senate promptly rejected. The Labour party have reason to be proud of the fact that by the rejection of that measure they helped to extend the influence of the Commonwealth Bank, which has done so much to assist the Government in financing the expenditure due to the war. It is not my intention to deal at greater length with the financial position, because there are other matters which appeal to some of us more directly at the present time, important as the question of finance undoubtedly is. I wish to refer to the railway proposals of the Government, and in this connexion I may not be quite so eulogistic as I have been in referring to their achievements for the defence of the Empire. In the statement read by the Minister of Defence a reference is made to a proposed strategic railway from Brisbane to Port Augusta. I have no fault to find with any railway proposals intended to develop the great northern part of the continent of Australia. It will be a very bad proposal, indeed, for the opening up of that country by railway communication which will not secure my indorsement. But no railway proposal will have my support until the great north and south railway is undertaken by the Commonwealth Government. There was a definite promise made to the people of Australia in connexion with that railway. I wish it to be understood that I am not here pleading for anything for South Australia. I remember that when I was dealing with the question some time ago an honorable senator characterized my statement as " a wail from South Australia." I am not one to wail, but I am prepared to say what I consider necessary in my own way. I am not condemning the proposed strategic railway at this stage, as we have no information concerning it, and it is not now before us for discussion; but I do say that the north and south railway has been before the people of Australia for many years, and I regret exceedingly that no reference to it is made in the Ministerial statement read by the Minister of Defence.

Senator Needham - Is it the intention to abandon it?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I should not like to say that that is the intention, but I must say that many people have been looking for some definite statement from the Government with respect to the north and south railway. I believe that it is a fact that the Commonwealth Government must give the Government of South Australia twelve months' notice from the end of the year of their intention to take over the portion of the railway between Quorn and Oodnadatta. So far as I know, no such notice has yet been given, and, as I understand the matter, twelve months must elapse from next November or December before anything can be done by the Commonwealth Government in connexion with the north and south railway.

Senator Pearce - No.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Minister will see how much more easy and simple it would be to take his own material over his own railway than to take it over a section owned by South Australia. I wish to refer to what an honorable senator said here regarding my remarks on this railway. On a previous occasion I made certain references to the territory through' which the railway should pass, and, amongst other things, I said that it would pass within a reasonable distance of the Barklay Tableland. An honorable senator told me that the Barklay Tableland was not in the Northern Territory, but in Queensland. I had not an opportunity to reply to him, but I have here the latest ' maps of the Territory, which show conclusively that the- Barklay Tableland runs for 400 miles into the middle of it. We want to borrow nothing from Queensland to bolster up this great Federal possession. I am pleading for Federal territory, and not for any particular State. I referred also at the time to the possibility of artesian water being found in the Barklay Tableland. Senator Turley told me that there was no such thing as artesian water anywhere near the Barklay Tableland. I have here another map, on which a very large area of that country is marked as "probably artesian." What is the use of an honorable senator telling us that certain things do riot exist in the Northern Territory, when, to judge by his own remarks, he has never even seen a map or plan of the country ? Before I referred to the subject on the last occasion, I took the precautions to examine all the maps specially prepared by the Government, and find out what I was talking about. Whilst the through railway does not actually touch the tableland, a route has been surveyed which goes nearer the Queensland border, and right through the centre of the tableland; so that we need not go to Queensland for anything in connexion with that part of the country. This Federal possession will, in a few years, return an enormous revenue to the Federal Government. Another map which I have here shows the settlement that has already taken place in this country, which is supposed by some people to be worthless. The whole of the coloured portion has already been taken up. It is not a barren waste, or a noman's land, but a country where a tremendous area has already been taken up, and where settlement would exist to-day if there were railway facilities for the people to get goods to their places, or their stock away to the seaboard. I think the area taken up already is about 300,000 square miles. The rainfall map shows that on the Barklay Tableland the average fall is between 15 and 25 inches. There are many portions in Australia where the fall is considerably le3S.

Senator Shannon - At Oodnadatta it is less than 5 inches.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - If Oodnadatta had no railway there would be no settlement there at all. All this goes to show that before an honorable senator condemns another senator's remarks, or suggests that he wants to impose on another State, he should acquaint himself with the facts. If he did, he would not fall into such a grievous blunder as my honorable friend fell into in connexion with the north-south railway. I am satisfied that good progress has been made, in spite of. great difficulties, with the eastwest railway, and I hope that long before the two and a half years mentioned by the Minister have passed, the line will be open for traffic. There are great water difficulties to be overcome. In fact. I believe the difficulties in the way of construction are greater in that case than they will be in regard to the north-south railway; but I am quite satisfied with the progress that the Commonwealth is making in the construction of the line. Unemployment is very much felt, and we hope that every effort will be put forth by the Commonwealth Government at the earliest moment to go on with the public works which have already been outlined, to absorb as many unemployed as possible. I believe the season is promising well, and if our workers can see their way to get over the coming winter, which will be a severe one, I believe that afterwards a much greater amount of employment will be available in rural occupations. I would, therefore, urge the Minister and the Government to do everything possible now in the way of providing employment. There is no reason why the whole of the amount set apart for public works, and not spent, should not be spent during the present year.

Senator Russell - A lot of it has been spent, but not paid.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I quite understand that the balance-sheet does not show the actual position. At any rate, I hope that none of the money will be " saved." I have every confidence that the Government will do their best. They have done their best so far, and if they can continue on the lines they have followed, they will earn the approval of everybody in Australia. I have no fault to find with the work they have done during the adjournment, and I have no doubt the past is simply an indication of what will be done in the future.

Debate (on motion by Senator O'Keefe) adjourned.

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