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Friday, 26 June 1914

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - Since the Bill was submitted much has been said by way of criticism of the action or inaction of the Government during the past year, and much has also been said in defence of their administration. It was not my intention to occupy much time on the present occasion ; but, from replies given by Ministers this morning, I gather that they are in no hurry to close the business of the Senate ; at any rate, they conveyed to me the impression that they were rather desirous of meeting again next week.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - I suppose the honorable senator is just as anxious as they are to return next week?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It is a matter of indifference to me whether the Senate meets even next month ; but if we have to return next week, the Ministers will be wholly to blame for the occurrence. I wish to refer to some of the undertakings which have been in charge of the Government during the past year, and to what I am sure every honorable senator on this side agrees is the very unsatisfactory management that has been shown. For these undertakings the late Government were, of course, largely responsible so far as their initiation is concerned; but, in any case, the administration by the present Government in this regard has not been anything like that desired by the people of Australia. For instance, the work in connexion with the construction of the transcontinental railway has been disappointing to every section of the community. For many weeks, at the Kalgoorlie end, the men were on strike for reasonable wages and living conditions; and even now we are not aware what steps have been taken by the Government to bring about a settlement. It would appear that the Government have calmly waited, and practically starved the men into accepting the terms offered. No reasonable attempt has been made to meet the men with a view to a settlement.

Senator McColl - Did the Government not agree to submit the matter to arbitration?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The men were on strike, and had been unemployed for a very considerable time before anything whatever was done in that regard.

Senator McColl - But the honorable senator says that the Government did nothing.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Government did very little, indeed, to make it easy for the men to come to terms.

Senator Henderson - They did nothing at all.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They did nothing in any shape or form to assist in the the settlement of the dispute. Last night the Vice-President of the Executive Council in referring to the progress made in the construction of this railway stated that the Fisher Government occupied fifteen days in building a mile of it,, whereas the present Government had constructed it at the rate of a mile in two days. He very carefully refrained from assigning any reason for the apparent difference between the progress of construction by the two Administrations. He studiously avoided any reference to the fact that the Fisher Government were obliged to assemble the plant, and to undertake all the preliminary work in connexion with the building of that railway. As a matter of fact, many months were occupied in Port Augusta in getting: the initial work under weigh. A similar remark is applicable to the Western Australian end of the line. The VicePresident of the Executive Council would have acted very much more fairly, if, in instituting a comparison of this kind, he had given due credit to his predecessors for the work which they had performed.

Senator Senior - I doubt if he has ever been to Port Augusta.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am confident that if he has been there, he must know of the tremendous amount of work which had to be undertaken before any construction work could be proceeded with. We all know that a little way out of Port Augusta a long bridge had to be built over a creek, and that this undertaking retarded the commencement of construction work.

Senator Senior - Then a branch line ha'd to be laid down to the quarry.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Exactly. None of these circumstances, however, were taken into consideration by the VicePresident of the Executive Council. I am not in a position to question the accuracy of his figures-

Senator McColl - They are the figures of the Railway Department.

Senator Senior - They convey an entirely false impression.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And that is what they were intended to do. They were designed to belittle the action of the late Government-

Senator McColl - Surely the officers of the Department would not have that in their minds.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Here is another instance of the Vice-President of the Executive Council endeavouring to shoulder responsibility on to departmental officers. I am dealing with the action of the Government, and not with that of their officers. I repeat that, in fairness to his predecessors, the Vice-President of the Executive Council should have said something of the difficulty under which they laboured at the inception of this great enterprise. Another matter which has been fairly threshed out in this chamber, and one which will ultimately contribute to delay in the construction of the line, is the muddle that has been made in connexion with the sleeper contract with the Western Australian Government.

Senator Senior - The Vice-President of the Executive Council stated that the Teesdale Smith contract- was let for the purpose of linking up two ends of the line. Asa matter of fact, there were no lines to link up.

Senator de Largie - "Job" is the right name for that contract. It was a most corrupt job.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - From, the evidence that has been forthcoming there can be no doubt that the present Government made a frightful blunder in connexion with the sleeper contract which was let to the Western Australian Government.

Senator Guthrie - Look at the stick of toffee which they hang out this morning as an inducement to the electors to vote for Sir John Forrest.

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