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Thursday, 13 May 1915

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - It is my desire to take this opportunity of referring to one or two matters in connexion with the Customs Department. I would like to have a statement from the Minister as to when the Navigation Act will be put into operation. I have an idea that there has been -some trouble on account of the present war, but from other sources I am told that the present conflict need not be a barrier. It took nine or ten years to get the Bill through this Chamber, and when it received the Royal Assent a change of Government took place. Whilst that Ministry occupied the Treasury bench there was no war for the greater part of the time, but still they refrained from putting into operation the provisions of that measure. Even if the war should be a barrier, I think some portions of the Act can be made operative, and the sooner this is done the better it will be for the Australian steam-ship companies, for our Australian seamen, and, I think, the better for the Australian passengers so far as the safety of life is concerned. Another matter to which I wish to refer is the lighting of our coast. We passed the Lighthouses Act some time ago - I forget how long - but 60 far nothing has been done by the Department to improve the lighting on the Australian coast. I do not know what the Minister will have to say in defence of the inactivity of the Department, but I do not think that the war can be used as an excuse. The western coast, and particularly the north-western portion of the Western State, is not adequately lighted, and because of this, shipping is subjected to very grave dangers. I think the Minister might let the Senate know what are the intentions of the Government in regard to those two measures.

Senator Blakey - There is a sum of £937 down for the survey of the northwest coast.

Senator NEEDHAM - I was not referring to the surveying of the coast, but to the lighting arrangements. I understand my colleagues, earlier in the afternoon, brought under the notice of the Government the question of purchasing sleepers for future railway construction. I had the honour, a few weeks ago, of waiting upon the Minister of Home Affairs on behalf of my colleagues in the Western State, and submitting to him a proposal that at least 1,000,000 jarrah or kairi sleepers should be purchased from the Western Australian Government for use on the trans-Australian railway. There were two objects in view in making that application. The first was to urge that the timber is of good quality, and by purchasing now the Government could be assured that it would be well seasoned, and thus better fitted for the purpose. The second object was to secure employment for those men who, owing to the war, have been dismissed, or found themselves out of employment because of the dislocation of trade resulting in the closing down of several timber mills in Western Australia. After a considerable delay, the Minister of Home Affairs sent me a reply saying that, in the opinion of the experts of his Department, the proposal could not be accepted because the sleepers, when exposed to the atmosphere, would not be properly seasoned, and would not be suitable for the purpose.

Senator Henderson - What absolute rot!

Senator NEEDHAM - In that letter, the Minister stated that they were awaiting the arrival from Western Australia of the Commonwealth Chief Engineer for Railways, Mr. Bell. I, for one, am not prepared to accept the statements of any expert that Western Australian hardwood timber, when exposed to the atmosphere, will deteriorate.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It is the best thing that could be done with the timber.

Senator NEEDHAM - Those who have had experience with the timber know that the opposite is the effect. To realize this, one has only to travel through the Western State and see the huge stacks of sleepers piled up year after year in the different yards, and used as they are required for the Western Australian railways, and also for other building purposes. The experience is that the more exposure the timber gets the better and sounder it is for the purpose to which it is put. Where the expert got his idea from I do not. know. I would like to see this matter gone into more closely, because. I am sure the expert's opinion can easily be disproved.

Senator Henderson - The expert must have been referring to blackboy.

Senator NEEDHAM - I am not speaking from a parochial point of view. The timber is good and useful for the purpose, and by purchasing a stock of sleepers from the Western Australian Government at the present juncture, the Commonwealth Government will enable men who are at present unemployed to obtain a livelihood. I also ask the Minister of Defence if he has yet re-opened the matter I mentioned a few weeks ago with regard to the assistant armourers; and if he has yet received the report of the Chief Ordnance Officer concerning the quality of the boots supplied by Goode, Durrant and Company, in Western Australia; as well as of the candle-tins supplied by the other firm mentioned ? If he lias received that report, I would like to know the nature of it.

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