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Thursday, 13 May 1915

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - The Assistant Minister has pointed out that the Commonwealth has no definite policy in regard to railway construction in the near future, and that, before anything in that direction can be done, it is necessary to secure the consent of the States. Surely he must have forgotten the proposal recently put forward by the Prime Minister for the building of a strategic railway. I need hardly remind him that, in the construction of lines for defence purposes, we do not require the consent of the States.

Senator Russell - We ought to have a happy combination of business and strategic railways.

Senator DE LARGIE - I hope that common sense will prevail in the construction of our railways. But, seeing that we have the power to construct railways for defence purposes without the consent of the States, Ministers ought not to shelter themselves behind the plea which has been urged by the Assistant Minister. Is the Government already running away from the strategic railway proposals? The honorable gentleman also dealt with the business aspect of this question. I maintain that, from an economic stand-point, it would be sound policy to lay in a stock of sleepers at the present juncture. We all know that sleepers can now be secured much cheaper than we shall be able to obtain them in the future. So sure as peace is proclaimed there will be a railway building boom throughout the world, and no country will benefit to a greater extent from that boom than will Western Australia. It is idle to argue that the Commonwealth has no definite railway policy ahead of it. Are we not pledged to the construction of the transcontinental line from north to south? 1 feel certain that, on the completion of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway, the line from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek will have to be taken in hand. It will thus be seen that we have a very definite policy ahead of us.

Senator Russell - I was speaking of only two or three years ahead.

Senator DE LARGIE - Sleepers, if they were obtained now, would be all the better for being kept in stock for two or three years, and thus properly seasoned. According to expert authorities, the longer sleepers are seasoned the better they become. To suggest that we should suffer loss from accumulating a stock of them is the height of childishness. The Assistant Minister has stated that if we were to purchase large stocks of sleepers at the present time we should have to borrow money with which to pay for them. Do I understand that all the money voted for public works has been expended ?

Senator Russell - There will not be much of it left

Senator DE LARGIE - If there is no money available for public works now-

Senator Russell - I said that there will not be much left at the end of the financial year.

Senator DE LARGIE - That is only a few weeks hence.

Senator O'Keefe - It is a pity that any of it should be left if it can be properly expended.

Senator DE LARGIE - According to the Assistant Minister's admission, there is some money left:

Senator Russell - But we are trying hard to spend it all.

Senator DE LARGIE - On what?

Senator Russell - On public works.

Senator DE LARGIE - The Assistant Minister said just now that we should have to borrow the money with which to pay for sleepers.

Senator Russell - But the money which we have been authorized to expend has been voted for specific works.

Senator DE LARGIE - We are already committed to the construction of the north-south transcontinental line, and the Prime Minister has recently put forward a proposal for the building of a strategic railway. The money for these undertakings will have to be found somewhere. There is very little virtue in the Prime Minister outlining a certain policy if he is not able to finance it. I think that the Government will be well advised if they take this matter up a little more seriously, and thus do themselves justice. Surely they are not above taking suggestions from supporters in matters of this kind.

Senator Russell - Not at all.

Senator DE LARGIE - Are we to understand that suggestions must come from a member of the Ministry before anything is done by this Government? If that is to be the policy, I can assure them that they are heaping up a great deal of trouble for themselves. If the honorable members who constitute their supporters are to be denied the right to bring these things forward, but are to be turned down because the suggestions do not come from a Cabinet Minister, the Government are going to get into a great deal of trouble. Every question should be considered on its merits, no matter who advocates it. This matter was sufficiently before the public before it was brought forward here, and now we have this " cock-and-bull " yarn trotted out about the seasoning of the timber. I hope, for the credit of the Minister and the Government, that the proposal will not bo hung up on such a miserable excuse as that, because it is altogether too thin for any one to swallow. I have no wish to detain the Committee on this matter, but I have a duty to perform to the State which has sent me here, and I would be careless of my duty if, knowing as I do that there are thousands of men connected with this industry in Western Australia out of work, I did not press this matter forward in this way. The question has received a considerable amount of attention in Western Australia, and the people there naturally expect it to be dealt with in a sensible way by this Government. Up to the present it has not been dealt with sensibly, and, accordingly, I am asking the Ministry to give it a little more consideration.

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