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Thursday, 17 November 1927

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - I was pleased to hear the sympathetic expressions of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Pearce) concerning Senator Poll's motion, and it seems to me that since it is after all little more than the expression of a pious hope the Government might very well accept it. This, to me, is an old subject. It take3 my memory back vividly to the days when we had as Premier of Queensland a Scotsman named Kidston, whose breadth of vision was equalled only by that of the late Sir Thomas Mcllwraith. Mr. Kidston held the idea that a line starting from Camooweal, going south-east to Dajarra, on the extreme west of the Townsville line, through Spring Vale, which is west of Longreach, to a point near Windorah, south-west of Blackall, thence to Eromanga and Tobermorey, south-west from Charleville, and thence to the border of New South Wales, would be the most suitable.

Senator Sampson - The loss on such a line would be £3,000,000 instead of £2,000,000.

Senator THOMPSON - I do not think : the loss would be anything like what Senator Sampson imagines.' About the time Mr. Kidston put forward this scheme, which by the way was held up owing to paucity of funds, the late Lord Forrest, who was then Treasurer of the Commonwealth, visited Rockhampton At that time the north-south railway was receiving the close and careful consideration of the Commonwealth Government. I was then president of the Chamber of Commerce, and Lord Forrest discussed this matter very freely and fully with me and other citizens of Rockhampton. His idea was that if a railway from the Northern Territory were taken to Camooweal, and thence through the Queensland border into Bourke in New South Wales, it would provide an excellent means of developing the Northern Territory. I believe that had Lord Forrest and the Government of which he was a member remained in power that line would have been constructed instead of the northsouth railway, to which, unfortunately, to my mind, the Commonwealth is committed. In discussing this subject, Senator Barwell made one sound contribution - I think it was the only one he did make - to the debate, and that was in regard to the financial aspect of this proposal. His remarks in that connexion were borne out by the subsequent statement of the honorary Minister (Senator Crawford).

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Then the honorable senator does not approve of what the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Pearce) said?

Senator THOMPSON - The Honorary Minister pointed out the difficulties with which the Commonwealth is confronted in finding moneys for railways projects, and Senator Pearce also stressed the same point. The financial difficulty seems at present to be insuperable; but an expression of opinion from the Senate as to what ought to be done in the future, should be useful I am glad to have the assurance of the Minister (Senator Pearce) that the North Australia Commission is now engaged in preparing recommendations for submission to the Government with regard to a railway system which will best serv& the Northern Territory. I heard the 'other day that three parties of surveyors were at work, and I feel sanguine that the recommendation of the commission will be in favour of this scheme. The advantages of such a railway have been stressed so much and so ably by the Minister that I do not intend to do more than touch upon them. During my life there have been two very severe droughts in Queensland. One of these, unfortunately, we are experiencing at present; the other occurred in the years 1901 and 1902. Had there been railway communication in existence between Queensland and the Northern Territory during those two droughts, millions of sheep and hundreds of thousands of cattle would have been saved. I think I arn correct in saying that droughts are almost unknown in the Northern Territory; but, unfortunately, that is not the case in Queensland. If stock can be transferred at a critical period to other districts where good feed is obtainable, their lives can be saved, and they can be returned when better conditions prevail. The importance of this railway scheme from a defence point of view has been stressed by abler soldiers than myself. It is obvious that a railway from the north through the cast would be very useful. It has been suggested that an enemy is> not likely to land on the barren coast of far North Queensland; but it could establish a good sea base there, and that, after all, is one of the first considerations in military strategy. An energetic and virile enemy with command of the sea could establish a base there aud eventually over-run the country. If, however, an enemy landed on our northern coast, and a line such as I have suggested were iu existence, troops could be rushed from the main centres of population on the coast. Commencing at Townsville, troops could -be picked up there and also at Rockhampton, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, and eventually Melbourne, and rushed to the point of danger. Such an advantage could not be obtained from the north-south line. By means of that' line troops could be brought only from Adelaide, and not from the more populous centres of the eastern States. From the1 defence view- point, therefore, the route I advocate is very desirable.- In common with the Minister, I have had recently an opportunity to confer with a large pastoralist from the Northern Territory, who asked me what the Commonwealth Government were doing in the matter of railways to serve the Northern Territory. I informed him that it was committed to the construction of a north-south line, to which he replied, " That is a great mistake." He was afraid, he said, that in the days to come it would be a blot upon the reputation of this Government, of which some of us are very proud. He further said that the line itself would l»c a white elephant, would result in the loss of a tremendous amount of money, and would damn for ever whatever good reputation the Government had. On the other hand, he considered a line to the south-east would enable stock to be transferred in the manner I have suggested, and would also enable the marketing of cattle in a way which is not at present possible. The Lakes Creek meatworks, which have interests . in the Northern Territory, bring their cattle all the way by road to Longreach, and then rail them to Rockhampton. By the time they reach that point they have fallen off considerably in condition, and have to be pastured for a long time before they are fit for slaughter. With proper railway communication with the Northern Territory, they could be brought .down to the coast, kept for a short period on good feed, and then dealt with as "fats." This pastoralist submitted a recommendation to me - it is not new, I believe it was made in another place - to the effect that even at this juncture the Government should confer with the South Australian Government as to whether the construction of the northsouth railway should not be stopped. He said that if that were done, two alternatives could be considered. The first was that instead of a railway, a good road should be constructed between the two existing railway systems; that he thought would serve the purpose for many years. The second alternative was that failing an agreement on that point, adequate compensation should be paid to the South Australian Government in lieu of the construction of the line. As this gentleman has had considerable experience in the Northern Territory and Queensland, he can speak with intimate knowledge of the whole subject. I tender his advice to the Government for what it is worth, even though it may unfortunately be too late for serious attention to be given to it. In the meantime, I think an expression of opinion from the Senate would be helpful to the North Australia Commission in arriving at a recommendation which it will have later to submit to the Government. In the hope that it will be, I support the motion, although it will rest with the mover to say whether he will withdraw it or allow it to go to a vote.

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