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Thursday, 30 November 1911

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - Quite a few minutes will be all that I shall require to make several, what I consider to be, necessary remarks on this Bill. As a matter of fact, I shall endeavour to model a speech rather on the style of Senator Millen's amendment. I heard that amendment described by the Minister of Defence as " a modified speech." I cannot help thinking that that kind of modified speech is rather an improvement. Whether I can imitate it or not, I shall try. I do not intend to dilate on any other suggested railway scheme. This proposal should be considered entirely on its own merits. We have nothing to do now with lines in the Northern Territory or the Federal Capital. The only question is : Is this, or is it not, a sound and satisfactory commercial undertaking? I know that that question does not suggest pleasing ideas to some members of the Senate. But it is the question that any private person or company would ask. The answer is, " Emphatically no." I admit that, in matters of railway construction, the question of profit does not exhaust the subject for a moment. There are many indirect reasons, which are often stronger than the direct reasons, for building a given line of railway. But do such indirect reasons apply in this instance? Can it be said that this railway, in its indirect effects, is going to benefit Australia? Are we, by authorizing it, going to spend money that will give satisfactory results to the Commonwealth in an indirect way? I cannot see that in any way. I cannot see that the Commonwealth is going to derive that indirect benefit which ought to be a justification for building such a railway. Is it a direct benefit that the proposal is going to be a source of loss for a great many years? Certainly not. What is going to counterbalance that loss? Additional value given to land ? Increased settlement ? Where is it ? No one has suggested anything of the kind. In all the estimates of revenue which have been received, only one source of income has been suggested, namely, the revenue from passengers. It has never been suggested that there will be any revenue from the development of the land, from freight, from the carriage of stock. No one thinks for a moment that there is going to be any freightover this line. The thing is not thinkable in face of competition by sea. Any business man, looking at the thing from a commercial point of view, would say at once that there is nothing to justify the construction of the line at all. I am compelled, therefore, to ask : What is the real reason for it ? We all know the reason. This line is to be constructed for sentimental reasons. There are no others - none whatever. The sentimental reason I will admit, at once, is the real reason. It necessarily appeals to every representative from South Australia and Western Australia. The view which they take is, " Because we think that Western Australia is isolated, whereas she ought to be connected by railway with the eastern States, we shall vote for the Bill."

Senator Needham - Her isolation is not a matter of thinking, but of fact.

Senator CLEMONS - And the sentiment which I have expressed arises from the fact. If there are other reasons why this line should be constructed, what are they? Of course, we have been told that it is required for defence purposes. But if the object of the Commonwealth be to strengthen our defences by the expenditure of £4,000,000, or £5,000,000, I submit that that money will be very badly expended upon this railway. There is not a member of this Chamber who could not propose a better scheme.

Senator Needham - Then, the honorable senator pits his opinion against that of Lord Kitchener?

Senator CLEMONS - 1 do not, for a moment. Lord Kitchener may have said that for the purposes of defence the line will be useful.

Senator Needham - He did say so.

Senator CLEMONS - But neither Lord Kitchener, nor General Hutton, has ever been asked whether the ,£5,000,000, which it is proposed to expend upon this line, could not be better spent in half-a-dozen different directions.

Senator Millen - Nor was Admiral Henderson asked that question.

Senator CLEMONS - Exactly. If we wish to spend £5,000,000 in strengthening our defences it is ridiculous to suggest that we cannot spend it in a better way. Consequently this line is going to be built for sentimental reasons. How is it to be paid for, and are we justified in indulging in this sentimental expenditure? As far as I can understand the position, for the first year or two the money for its construction will be taken out of revenue, and the balance required will, subsequently, be borrowed. Now, there was a time when honorable senators opposite said that they objected to public borrowing.

Senator Givens - A great many of us are of that opinion still.

Senator de Largie - We never said anything of the kind.

Senator Stewart - We object to public borrowing except for reproductive works.

Senator CLEMONS - At any rate, many honorable senators opposite have said that they object to public borrowing, except for reproductive works.

Senator Gardiner - That is in the Labour platform.

Senator CLEMONS - And many honorable senators upon this side of the Chamber will agree with that view. But is the line which forms the subject of this Bill a reproductive work? Certainly not. The money for its construction is to be borrowed, and the people of Australia are to be made liable for its repayment with interest for purely sentimental reasons. Is the adoption of such a course justifiable? Where are we going in pur expenditure?

I recognise that this is a fairly heavily taxed community already and, as a Free Trader, I object to the enormous amount of revenue which is being raised through the Customs. I am perfectly certain that every true Protectionist equally objects to the same thing. Either that revenue will increase, or it will decrease. If it increases the bad state of things which obtains to-day will be accentuated, because it will be said, " Oh, let matters remain as they are, because we require the money." But no honest Protectionist will take that view. If Protectionists declare that the existing taxation is too heavy for the people of Australia, what will happen in regard to the demands which will be made upon us? There will be no way of meeting our enormous liabilities, except, through Customs taxation. It is true that we have a land tax in operation, but the amount which it returns to the Commonwealth is a mere detail. It yields only about £1,500,000 annually: and, to my knowledge, it has been allocated to half-a-dozen different projects. Consequently, the money to meet our obligations will have to come out of the only source of revenue which we have - the Customs. A few words more and I shall have finished my remarks. We have before us the example of South Australia, which indulged in a similar scheme to that which we are now considering - a scheme to build her own railway to the Northern Territory. But what was that State's good fortune? When Federation was established, South Australia found a more wealthy authority willing to relieve her of the trouble which she had created for herself.

Senator Givens - We may find somebody willing to take over our white elephant.

Senator CLEMONS - That is a position which I cannot possibly imagine. When once we indulge in this scheme, it -will be ours for ever.

Senator Pearce - The Commonwealth may be called upon to do something for Tasmania shortly.

Senator CLEMONS - That is a remark which the Minister of Defence might have better left unuttered.

Senator Pearce - Then, why does the honorable senator say the same thing about South Australia and Western Australia ?.

Senator CLEMONS - I have not said one word about the demands of South Australia or Western Australia. The only reference which I made was a playful one to the effect that South Australia was fortunate enough to get the Commonwealth to relieve her of a heavy burden. The Minister ought not to have dragged into this debate the reference which he made to Tasmania. What Tasmania deserves is a matter for this Parliament to decide. In conclusion, I have only to add that, as we cannot afford to build this railway, we ought not to pass the Bill.

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