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Thursday, 30 November 1911

Senator McCOLL (Victoria) . - I have only a few remarks to make. I wish to say that Senator Gardiner was in error in stating that the Victorian Government must have been in favour of the construction of this line, in view of the fact that they were anticipating its construction in the building of rolling-stock for the 4-ft.8½-in. gauge. I have already admitted that rolling-stock has been converted in Victoria, but I have explained that the Government knew nothing about what was being done. It has been done by the order of some one' in the Railway Department, but I have been informed that neither the Government nor. Parliament knew anything . about the change in the construction of rolling-stock. The letter which we have' before us to-day by the courtesy of the Minister of Defence, from the Acting Premier of Victoria, puts quite a different aspect on the matter. Addressing the Prime Minister, Mr. Watt writes as follows -


Adverting to previous correspondence on the subject of theuniformity of the railway gauges in Australia; I have now the honour to inform you that this Government is of opinion that no satisfactory solution of this question can be obtained without a consultation between the responsible Ministers of the Commonwealth and the States.

2.   It is therefore desired that a conference of such Ministers should be held asearly as practicable to consider and deal with the political, financial, and engineering problems which are involved.

3.   This' Government further strongly urges that, pending such deliberations, the Commonwealth Government should take the necessary steps to prevent a final decision being arrived at with respect to the gauge of the proposed transcontinental line intimately related as such subject is to the general question of gauge conversion, in which the States of Australia are vitally concerned.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

W.   A. Watt,

Acting Premier.

I think that is only a reasonable request. Honorable senators must remember that South Australia and Victoria are, to some extent, on the defensive in this matter. It interests them very vitally indeed, since, if this proposal be given effect to, it must dislocate and disarrange their whole system.

Senator Pearce - I think T should ask you, sir, whether the honorable senator is in order, and whether the break of gauge may be discussed upon the amendment. I remind you that the honorable senator has already spoken on the main question.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator has already spoken to the main question, and he must now confine himself to the amendment.

Senator McCOLL - I am not mentioning the question of break of gauge. I arn speaking of engineering and financial problems, and these are mentioned in the amendment, which deals with the route, the cost of construction, the revenue and expenditure, and the interest charged. I wish to correct the idea that the Victorian Government have in any way signified their acceptance of this measure, or are prepared to fall into line. There are only two points which remain to be settled. One point I am not permitted to mention, and the other is the question of route. To my mind, the latter 5s very vague and shadowy. It is set down in the Bill, and will have to be carried out, unless, of course, the measure is amended. I hope that the Minister will deal with these two points in his reply. Very strong reasons have been laid before the Senate iri support of the contention that the right route has not been taken. That matter should, I think, be left open for further determination. I think that if the Minister will leave open the question of the route and the question of the gauge for further discussion with the two States, there will be no trouble in passing the Bill.

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