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Thursday, 13 May 1915

Senator RUSSELL (VictoriaAssistant Minister) . - I hope that honorable senators who have addressed themselves to this question will not imagine that I lack sympathy with their proposal, because, as a matter of fact, I was the first to bring it under the notice of Ministers. But the position is that at the present time we do not desire to enter into further contracts for the supply of sleepers, because we have already entered into contracts covering a sufficient supply for the east- west transcontinental railway. We have been told that there is a lack of employment, not only in the forests of Western Australia, but in those of other States. I feel sure that the Government will be only too willing to provide for the development of that forest country, or for works which will meet the unemployed difficulty. At the same time I would remind honorable senators that in the construction of railways and the purchase of supplies we are expected to consider the business aspect of the matter.

Senator de Largie - That is what I am asking the Government to do.

Senator RUSSELL - Seeing that we have already arranged for a sufficient sup ply of sleepers, why should we purchasemore? The reason which has been advanced is that we should do so in anticipation of the Commonwealth adopting a railway-building policy. But I would remind honorable senators that many months ago a suggestion was made in thisdirection, which is no nearer realization to-day, not because of any fault of the Commonwealth, but because we do not possess the constitutional power to construct railways through the different States without the consent of the States. So long as that position obtains, so long will there be wrangling and delay as tothe carrying out of a Commonwealth railway policy. It has not beers suggested that if we purchase sleepers,, which we do not at present require, the contractors who supply us will becontent to wait for their money. Whilst the European war is in progress we are not likely to be burdened" with surplus cash with which to purchaseadditional sleepers, and, consequently, if we decided to purchase a million or twomillions of sleepers which we do not immediately require; we should have to borrow the money with which to pay forthem. It seems to me that if those sleepershad to lie idle very long it would not begood business to secure them. The report of Mr. Bell, the Engineer-in-Chief, is to the effect that the storing of sleepersdoes not add to their -life. If timber is not improving in quality, obviously it must be deteriorating. We must also remember that a sleeper, when it is properly laid on a railway, is placed upon 5 inches of metal, and even if it be greenwhen laid down it undergoes a natural process of seasoning. The seasoning of" ordinary timber stands upon quite a different plane.

Senator Buzacott - Will not greensleepers shrink away from the dogs?

Senator RUSSELL - They will if they are laid down too green. But the probability is that sleepers which are now ia hand will not be used for six months. In these circumstances, they surely cannot be described as green. In view of the strong, representations which have been made to-night I will again bring this matterbefore the Cabinet. I can assure honorable senators that Ministers are sympathetic towards the proposal, but, at the same time, I cannot hold out any hope: that effect will be given to it. Whatever the decision of the Cabinet may be, however, the matter will be considered sympathetically.

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