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Friday, 28 May 1915

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) .- The matter that has been brought under notice by Senator Needham has received considerable attention in Western Australia," though, perhaps, in the eastern States people have not taken quite as much notice of it, and there are certain features of it that it is well to take into consideration. I am not prepared to say whether the cost of building the railway will be greater or less than the estimate, but I do know that if it is greater, it will not be the fault of the day-labour system that has been adopted. The fault will be found to be due to the fact that the present Government have had to buy out certain rights of contractors who were given contracts during the short period that the Fusion Government were in power.

Senator Shannon - Who were they? I know nothing of Fusion.

Senator DE LARGIE - The Fusion party gave themselves their own name. I cannot see why the honorable senator should object to the name being applied to his party. If there is any shame attachable to it the fault lies with the party and not with one who is merely repeating a title that his party have adopted. There is no use quibbling about names; we have to deal with facts, and I maintain that during the period they were in power the Fusion Government gave contracts to contractors - friends of theirs, of course - and that because of the enormous prices these contractors were getting, and their humbugging methods in the. construction of the railway, the present Government had to buy them out to get rid of them, and had to pay through the nose to do so. The West Australian pays no attention to this fact. It slums over such a transparent matter and makes a great hullabaloo about the men working on the day-labour system. I know the type of man who is engaged on this work, and I know the gold-fields of Western Australia fairly well. There is no place in Australia where fewer loafers can be found, and where loafers get less consideration. From my knowledge of these men I can say that if the cost of the railway is greater the fault will not lie with the day-labour principle. I think it is rather unfair to hold the present Engineer-in-Chief responsible in connexion with the lack of water supply. This matter should have been attended to before the construction of the railway began, and I know that the first supervising engineer at the Kalgoorlie end time and again drew the attention of the previous Engineer-in-Chief to the fact that it was necessary to provide a sufficient water supply. If the matter has been neglected it is unfair to saddle the responsibility on Mr. Bell. As for the day-labour question, I am satisfied that we cannot get more willing workers in the Commonwealth than those engaged upon this work, and to say that there is anything like loafing going on is a libel upon them, and downright misrepresentation.

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) - It is merely a repetition of the old " man-on-the-job " yarn.

Senator DE LARGIE - If any fault is to be found it is sure to be laid upon the man who works with a pick and shovel in the desert country of Australia, and who has the most arduous labour to perform. We slum over any amount of things of that sort in regard to men engaged under much more comfortable circumstances in Government employment. We never hear a word of criticism in regard to them. We need not go out of Melbourne to see what is taking place in many Government offices, yet there is no criticism about the manner in which men in nice billets do their work; we hear nothing of the Government stroke in connexion with them, but certain newspapers never miss an opportunity of attacking the man who works in the interior under most disadvantageous circumstances. I am glad to raise my voice this morning in protest against criticism of this kind.

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