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Thursday, 13 May 1915

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) . - I feel that the time which has been devoted to this discussion will not have been wasted if it induces Ministers togive a little more attention to the question raised by Senator de Largie than they appear to have done, if we may judge of their attitude by the remarks of the Assistant Minister. I was very glad to hear his assurance that he will again bring this matter before his colleagues, although I gathered that he himself has already made up his mind upon it. Hisreference to the consideration of cheapness was, I think, scarcely characterised by the sound common sense which he usually exhibits. His observations almost suggested that, in counselling the purchase at the present juncture of supplies of sleepers for our future requirements, we were advocating the employment of cheap labour.

Senator Russell - Oh, no.

Senator O'KEEFE - Just now, when such a number of timber mills are shut down in .Western Australia and Tasmania, and when mill-owners are craving for contracts, it is surely common sense to suppose that we can obtain sleepers much cheaper than we shall beable to obtain them in the future. TheAssistant Minister pointed out that the- purchase of these sleepers with borrowed money would be bad business.

Senator Russell - I did not say that it would necessarily be bad business. But I put forward the fact that they would have to be paid for with borrowed money as one which should be taken into consideration.

Senator O'KEEFE - But against that factor should be set the saving which would probably be effected by purchasing the sleepers now - a saving of probably 20 or 25 per cent. The, problem of unemployment must be faced, and its attendant evils minimized as far as possible. The use of steel sleepers has been introduced into this debate. I look forward to the time when we shall establish national iron and steel works in Australia.

Senator Gardiner - Personally, I think that reinforced concrete will supply us with a superior sleeper either to steel or wood.

Senator O'KEEFE - Possibly it will, but that point has not yet been demonstrated. If we are to wait until we can get steel sleepers from our own mills before undertaking the construction of the north-south transcontinental line, I am afraid that that project will be postponed for a considerable time. I hope that the Assistant Minister will reconsider the views which he has expressed upon this question.

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