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Thursday, 13 May 1915

Senator SENIOR (South Australia) , - I was surprised to hear the Min ister reply in the way he did. I give him credit for wide knowledge, but, if he had given the subject of timber careful study, he would have recognised, that, according to the best judges, the value of timber has appreciated at least. 30 per cent, during the last decade. That does not affect soft timbers only, but must relatively affect hard timbers also, and it must mean that a large amount of soft timber now used will have to be replaced by hard timber. Our forests, are being rapidly denuded, and far. from sufficient re-afforestation is taking place to assure an adequate supply in time to come. The price oft sleepers has gone up considerably and in South Australia it is very, difficult to get them for South Australian works alone. The only State on the continent where sleepers outside of purely local needs can be looked for is Western Australia. As to the small island to the south that we hear so much about, its timber resources will be soon exhausted when it is called upon to supply the needs of the whole continent. The experience of New Zealand shows how rapidly huge forests can be swept away. The experience of America is that fire destroys ten. times as much timber as the axe. In view of these facts, it would be a sound business proposition to purchase every sleeper required for the east-west railway this year. The price may not be as reasonable as it was in times past.

Senator Gardiner - The east-west railway is provided for; the sleepers are either in hand or the contracts let.

Senator O'Keefe - But what about the north-south railway?

Senator SENIOR - Ministers seem to forget that the Commonwealth is as much' pledged to the construction of the northsouth railway as it was to the east-west.

Senator Blakey - They will have steel sleepers on the north-south railway, as they have at present down to Pine Creek, because wooden sleepers will not stand the white ants.

Senator SENIOR - There are steel sleepers laid- on the overland route between here and Adelaide, but it is still a question of experiment whether they will take the place of the wooden. The railway engineer has still to see whether he cannot substitute reinforced concrete, but that again is an experiment. On the other hand, the experience of many years shows that the best sleeper that* can possibly be laid under a railway is the Australian hardwood. A pledge that cannot be evaded has been given to construct the north-south railway. We must consider the need of providing employment, and if we delay the purchase of sleepers the cost of the railway will be considerably increased, the enhanced cost being much greater than would be the interest on the cost of the sleepers if purchased now.

Senator Gardiner - Are there not some very good belts of timber in the Macdonnell Ranges?

Senator SENIOR - The accessible timber there will not be nearly enough to construct the portion to Alice Springs. The Assistant Minister said that timber would depreciate if stored.

Senator Russell - I corrected that. What the Chief Engineer said was that the storing of sleepers does not extend their life.

Senator SENIOR - He does not say it shortens their life. It is a very common practice, especially in South Australia, to store along the lines sleepers for relaying for several years before they are required. The railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta has been laid down for a considerable time, and provision will have to be made for relaying it with new sleepers before very long. A. business man like the Minister would immediately recognise that it was a sound proposition to obtain in the almost immediate future enough sleepers for relaying. When he takes these matters into consideration I am sure he will give a different reply from that which he made this afternoon. To me his speech conveyed the impression of being evasive. He seemed to be attempting to get out of a difficult position by raising the question whether the life of a sleeper would be extended by storing, and by saying the Government had no money to spend on this object. The question of indefinitely hanging up the construction of the north-south railway is making itself very seriously felt in South Australia. If ever there was a period when it was necessary to connect the north with the south it is the present. The Minister's objection is strange, seeing that the Prime Minister himself has suggested the construction of a totally different line for military purposes. I am afraid the Minister will have to withdraw or qualify considerably his earlier speech by saying that the matter will re ceive serious consideration, and that not Western Australia alone, but other States, may be able to supply the sleepers which I am sure will be needed for railway construction at no distant date.

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