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Thursday, 13 May 1915

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - The suggestion that has been made by Senator de Largie and supported by other senators this afternoon, that the Government should purchase timber for sleepers and other purposes, has a good deal to recommend it. The honorable senator pointed out that the purchase of those sleepers would provide a considerable amount of employment to men in Western Australia, and other senators have assured the Committee that it would also furnish employment to men in the other States as well. That fact, in itself, is important, and should weigh with the Government. There is no doubt that it is a great mistake to leave the question of sleeper supply until the sleepers are actually wanted, for it must be well within the recollection of most senators that great difficulty was experienced at an earlier stage in the construction of the east-west railway.

Senator de Largie - It was said then that the Government could not get sleepers, and that the work was to be hung up.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes; one of the reasons given for the delay in construction was that the Government could not get sleepers because the Government of Western Australia were unable to carry out their contract on time. Whether that was correct or not, surely it is now the duty of the Government to guard against any similar occurrence in connexion with future railway construction. It seems to me that after the arguments that have been adduced this afternoon, the Government should give this matter further consideration. I do not know how long sleepers cut in Western Australia are stacked, before they are brought to the Eastern States, but I know that, after they come to South Australia, they are stacked for a considerable time, in some cases- from twelve to eighteen months, before they are used for railway work. They are stacked in heaps in such a way that the air has free play through them, the top is covered with earth, and the ends of the sleepers exposed to the weather are painted with white lead or some other similar material, to prevent cracking. Owing to the size of the timber, some time must elapse before evaporation is completed, and the sleepers are at their best, seasoned under dry conditions. When the sleeper is ready for use, it is bored to hold the dog spikes, and, as no further shrinkage takes place, the spike is always firmly held by the dry timber, practically during the whole life of that sleeper. Mow, the Minister said that usually sleepers are put in a certain depth of ballast, but in South Australia, in a completed railway, they are invariably covered over with earth. Laid in this way, moisture and rain have not the same effect upon the perfectly dried sleeper as upon a sleeper put in only partially dried. Concerning the other suggestion, that timber should be purchased and seasoned for other works, I might mention that some weeks ago the Federal members for South Australia were waited on by a deputation of timber merchants with reference to the proposed duties on timber. Those gentlemen are practical men in the business, and they were able to give the Federal members some valuable information concerning Australian and imported timber. They stated that they could not afford to keep the Australian hardwoods long enough to season them properly.

Senator O'Keefe - That is the objection of a good number of timber merchants everywhere.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is how they put it to us. They were satisfied as to its durability, but pointed out that if it -were used for flooring purposes before being seasoned the shrinkage would be so great, that after it had been down a few months, a man could put his fingers between the boards, with the result that the floor would have to be pulled up again. They urged that on account of the cost, they could not afford to keep Australian hardwood timber long enough to season it properly, and, therefore, they were forced to use the softer imported woods. This was one of the rea sons advanced by them in support of a' request for a reduction in the suggested duties on timber. The Minister has told us that the Government cannot build railways except with the permission of the States, but, as a matter of fact, we know that they can build railways for certain purposes without that consent. I am not urging this course upon them, however, but I want them to give consideration to the fact that they have an authorized railway to their own territory in the centre of Australia, where 300 or 400 miles of track has already been surveyed by Mr. Graham Stewart. There is no reason under the sun why the construction of that railway should not be commenced next week, if the Government so desire.

Senator de Largie - The unemployed question this winter will force them to do something.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The suggestion .made by the honorable senator to procure sleepers will provide employment just now for a large number of men. Wo hope that many thousands of those men who have gone to the front will be back in Australia within the next twelve months. But wha"t are we going to do with them ? We cannot give them all pensions, so surely the least we can do is to provide them with work.

Senator Bakhap - Enrol 30,000 or 40,000 of them in a permanent Army. We will want them all.

Senator de Largie - No regular Army for Australia.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Even if we do as Senator Bakhap suggests, there will be plenty for whom work should be provided. I might add that I am in agreement with Senator Bakhap that Australia will have to maintain a regular Army for her future defence; but I am not going to be led off the railway question just at present. I want to know what we will do with those men if we do not take the precaution to look far enough ahead to find employment for them ? Now, if the Government adopt Senator de Largie' s suggestion, they will have at their disposal one of the most essential requirements for the work which they will be called upon to undertake. It does not matter whether the sleepers are stacked in Western Australia, Tasmania, or anywhere else in Australia. The fact that matters is that the sleepers will be available for the construction of the northsouth railway to which this Government and this country are absolutely pledged. The excuse given by the Minister that the Government cannot construct railways without the permission of the States does not apply to this, which is one of the biggest works the Commonwealth will be called upon to undertake for many years.

Senator de Largie - Do you think South Australia would object to the Commonwealth building the railway from Port Augusta to the Northern Territory ?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - South Australia could not object, because she agreed to the construction of the line when the Territory was transferred. The Government may regard an alteration of the route as necessary.

Senator Russell - A section is being constructed now in the north, and the surveyors are coming right down.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The section from Pine Creek to the Katherine River is being constructed.

Senator Russell - That is why I made no reference to the Northern Territory railway.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - My contention is that the railway should be started from the southern end, which is the right end. It is useless to send the material more than half way round the continent to begin the railway at the wrong end, which is what is being done. The reasons the Minister has given to-night are not sufficient to make me refrain from urging on him the absolute necessity of giving this proposal very careful consideration. It will provide a large amount of work, and furnish material that will improve as time goes on. When the Government are ready to use that material, and men are asking for employment, we shall be able to provide it for them. I am confident that the Minister is impressed with the case made out this afternoon. I know he is as anxious to provide workas we are. As a member of the Government he cannot make a straight-out promise on his own account, but I am confident that he will duly impress his colleagues with what has been said here to-day, and that action on the lines indicated this afternoon will be taken in the near future.

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