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Friday, 26 June 1914

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes. Evidently they now realize that their foolish action has brought them face to face with the electors, who will demand some explanation of their conduct in connexion with that contract. Some of their friends in Western Australia appear to be particularly anxious as to what the people will have to say to them on polling day. Particularly are they consumed with anxiety to know what the electors will say to Sir John Forrest, who is one of the strong men of the present Ministry. It looks as if that gentleman has ample justification for his anxiety to retrieve the blunder that was made in connexion with the sleeper contract, with a view to securing a majority of votes in his own electorate.

Senator Guthrie - With a view to securing for his own district the supply of 500,000 sleepers.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The mischief has been done, and no small contract which may now be fixed up will satisfy the people of Western Australia.

Senator de Largie - A contract for the supply of 500,000 sleepers instead of 1,500,000 - just one-third of the number provided for in the original contract.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The electors will doubtless deal with the Government on polling day. I would not have referred to this matter but that Senator McColl last night took so much credit to the Ministry for the work which they have performed on the transcontinental railway, and refused to give any credit to his predecessors for the unprofitable and unsatisfactory work which they had to undertake. Coming to the Teesdale Smith contract, the time has surely gone by when the Government ought to attempt to defend such an iniquitous job. The evidence that has. been adduced has satisfied the people of Australia that at the head of the Railway Construction Branch of the Commonwealth there is a gentleman who does not know the first principles of business when he has to deal with hardheaded business men such as Mr. Teesdale Smith and other contractors.

Senator Guthrie - He happened to have Mr. Teesdale Smith and Mr. Timms on opposite sides.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - He. did not appear to take advantage of the fact that the services of both Mr. Teesdale Smith and Mr. Timms were available. Had he given Mr. Timms and Mr. Baxter an equal chance with Mr. Teesdale Smith we would have had very little to say concerning the letting of this portion of the railway on contract.

Senator de Largie - Mr. Timms does not contribute to their election expenses.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I do not know whether he does or not. If he ever did, the letting of this contract has surely settled him in that regard, and he will contribute to their funds no longer. I am sure that many honorable senators have been disappointed to find that the Government have, attempted to shelter themselves behind their officers. Minis.ters are but human, and mistakes are bound to be made, and surely when a mislake is made, it is a manly course to own up to it. Had that been done, had Ministers owned up to the fact that they were had by this contractor, and compelled to pay double what the work would have cost had the proper course been adopted, we would not have heard so much about the Teesdale Smith contract.

Senator de Largie - They were not got at; the matter was all arranged.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am putting the case in the most Christian spirit that I can, and am trying to apologize for Minsters.

Senator de Largie - The Prime Minister might have taken the responsibility, and not put it on to poor Kelly.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes, the kindergarten Minister, being the most juvenile and most innocent member of the learn, has had to bear the whole of the responsibility. I am confident that the electors of Australia will show their disapproval of this contract. The Minister told us last night that the whole of the f acts would be put before the people in ti way that could be understood ; but, with fill due deference to that Minister, I suggest that the best place to put those facts before the people is on the floor of this Chamber, and that the best time for doing it is before the session closes, and honorable senators have gone to their constituencies, so that honorable senators may hear those facts and criticise the actions of the Government, and any statement put forward by them. Honorable senators should be made acquainted with any excuse or justification the Government may put forward for their action. Doubtless the facts will be put before the people by Ministers in a way that will make them look most favorable to the Government, but I am confident that sufficient has been said upon this question during the last two months to satisfy the people that something entirely irregular, and absolutely wrong, has been done in letting this contract at the price that is being paid, and I am further satisfied that the people of ^Australia will have to foot a very con siderable bill in connexion with it. Unsatisfactory as the Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie railway construction is, I think, every one will agree with me that the construction of the Pine Creek to Katherine River railway is even more unsatisfactory. Twelve months have gone by, and nothing has been done. We were told the other day in another place that the men were about to start, or that they were thinking about starting, or that they were about to start by-and-by.

Senator de Largie - The Government are exhausted over their effort to build the transcontinental railway.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Evidently they have exhausted their capabilities as railway constructors on the little bit of work already done, and after having let the Teesdale Smith contract, and set the men on strike.

Senator Guthrie - And sacked the boss.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes ; and, as Senator Needham this morning pointed out, they are now beginning to victimize members of the unions. But they have just started about a week too soon. So anxious were they to get to these objectionable unionists, that they could not wait until Parliament was dissolved. God help unionists if this is to be taken as a sample of the way in which the present Government propose to treat them. The leaders of the union at the Kalgoorlie end of the transcontinental, railway, the so-called agitators, men of the type of those who are more responsible for maintaining industrial peace than any other section, are to be victimized by the Government at the very first opportunity. That this step of dismissing prominent members of the union has been taken so speedily is, in a sense, a good thing, because it enables honorable senators to call attention to it.

Senator McColl - Neither the Government nor the Railway Department know anything about the matter.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It is an extraordinary feature of Ministers in this chamber that they know absolutely nothing about what takes place in any other Department but their own.

Senator McColl - I have a memorandum from the Railway Department showing that nothing is known about the matter.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Minister has been a shocking example of how little a Minister may know concerning the Department he controls, judging by the replies he has given in this chamber. Notice has to be given of nearly every question submitted to him. It is no wonder then that he does not know that these leaders of the unions at the Kalgoorlie end of the railway have been discharged.

Senator Blakey - Perhaps the Minister may know that Mr. Hobler has been sent to Port Augusta, owing to Mr. Bell's appointment as Engineer-in-Ohief of Railways, and that Captain Saunders has been removed from Port Augusta, and is now walking about the streets of Melbourne drawing his salary, and with a chance of dismissal over his head.

Senator Pearce - Another victim?

Senator Blakey - Yes.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I was not aware that Captain Saunders had been withdrawn. I do not know whether the Minister knows of it. If he does it will be very interesting to know whether the statement made by Senator Blakey is true.

Senator Blakey - It is true.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Govern ment have had twelve months in which to prepare a policy for the development of the Northern Territory, and they have had on the statute-book, since the close of last session, an Act authorizing them to construct a railway from Pine Creek to Katherine River, but, strange to say, this Ministry of all the talents, and all the giant intellects, has not been able to do anything on that railway, or, until a few days ago, frame a policy for the development of the Territory.

Senator McColl - The last Government had three years, and did nothing.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That statement is contrary to fact, and is in accord with many other statements made by the Minister. The last Government did infinitely more in their three years of office than the present Government could do in six years. The Fisher Government paid off a considerable part of the Northern Territory debt. This Government cannot do that. It is going to the bad at the rate of £250,000 a month. All that it has done has been to undo much of the good work of the last Government. It has discharged men whose services were urgently needed in the Northern Territory.

Senator de Largie - Labour men.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Some of them. It has discharged Mr. Francis, who was manager of the railway. Who is managing the railway now?

Senator Blakey - Mr. Francis was an avowed opponent of the Labour party, and still was appointed by a LabourMinistry.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is an instance of the stupidity of the Labourparty. It gives appointments to its opponents; but how many Labouriteshave been appointed by the present Government? If it is to be "spoils to the victors," the Labour party should play the game as much as the other party, which invariably gives its appointments to the members of the political organization supporting it. The Northern Territory railway is not paying at the present time, but a good manager, if he could not make it pay, would at least be able to keep down expenses, and thus to decrease any loss. We passed last session an Act for the extension of the railway, yet nothing has been done under it. The Minister of External Affairs proposes to extend the line on the narrow gauge. He is one of the most level-headed men in the Ministry, and I am astounded that he proposes to use the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge. The Government is constructing the railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta on the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge, and is buying rolling stock, locomotives, and material to suit that gauge.

Senator McColl - What is the gauge of the line from Darwin to Pine Creek?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The 3-ft. 6-in, gauge. But does the Government propose to adopt one gauge for the east-west transcontinental line and another gauge for the north-south transcontinental line? Is it going to imitate the blundering of the States in the matter of gauges ? Why has not the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge been made the uniform gauge for all our lines ? The Minister of External Affairs says that it would cost £500,000 to widen the line from Darwin to Pine Creek, a distance of 146 miles. If that be so, what will it. cost to convert the line from PortoDarwin to Port Augusta to the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge after it has been laid on the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge ? Surely it is an act of folly to lay a line on a gauge which will necessitate the pulling up of the rails and the relaying of them on a wider gauge within a few years. But this is only one of the many acts of folly of this Government, another of the crimes that is hurrying it to its doom. " Senator Guthrie. - The honorable senator does not call Ministers criminals?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They would be more correctly compared with certain animals mentioned in the Scriptures, which ran down a steep place, with consequences to themselves that are well known. Let me call attention to another shocking blunder in connexion with railway construction. In the Commonwealth Government Gazette for the 6th June, under the heading "Tenders accepted," it is announced that the tender of Messrs. Elder Smith & Co. Ltd., for 5,752 tons of 60-lb. rails for the Pine Creek to Katherine River railway has been accepted. Are not Ministers aware that the 60-lb. rail is everywhere being discarded, and that where such a rail is used in a line laid on the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge, trains cannot travel with safety at a rate exceeding 20 miles an hour? It is suggested by Senator Guthrie that they will do for telegraph posts, but old, condemned rails that are of no more use are generally employed for that purpose, whereas these are new rails being purchased, and obsolete before they are used. In South Australia, on the narrow-gauge line between Port Pirie and Broken Hill, the. 60-lb. rails have been pulled up, and 90-lb. rails substituted. That has actually been done on a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge. Quick transit and heavy traffic are not possible on 60-lb. rails, and it is a wicked waste of money for the Commonwealth to purchase them for a trunk railway. We hear a great deal "of the bad bargains made by the Fisher Government, but the Teesdale Smith contract and this transaction show that the present Government know absolutely nothing about the construction of railways, or the requirements of the country.

Senator McColl - I suppose Mr. Bell knows what he is about?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Gazette notice appeared on the 6th June, and tenders must have been called for the rails months before Mr. Deane left the Department, so that Mr. Bell would probably know nothing about them. The honorable senator's interjection is only another instance of the way the Government shelter themselves behind their officers. Every time we sheet home a crime to them, they exclaim, " Aha ! It is some of those wretched officers again." I should not care to be an officer in the Commonwealth Service at the present time, when every blunder that the Government make is laid at the door of the Service. Mr. Bell, who comes from Queensland, where they have wellequipped, well-laid narrow-gauge lines, carrying heavy plant, would not, I am confident, recommend the use of 60-lb. rails for the north-south railway. It is of very little use to impress on the Government the necessity of reconsidering the question, as, I suppose, the transaction has been completed, But I am sure that the Government which will occupy the Treasury benches after 5th September next will see that a railway which will bear traffic at a reasonable speed, and be of some use in the development of the Territory, is laid across the Continent. Apart from the construction of railways, nothing has been done by the Government towards the development of the Territory. In fact, every possible step seems to have been taken to retard its development. The people of Australia have to shoulder the accumulated debt of the country, and pay interest on it, but not a thing has been done by the Government to develop its undoubted resources.

Senator McColl - Mr. Glynnwill tell you a different story in South Australia about that.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I have Mr. Glynn's report, and, although I have not had time to read it, I saw the gist of it in the press a few days ago, and can assure the honorable senator that there is nothing new in Mr. Glynn's scheme. The plan outlined by the Fisher Government went quite as far, and was actually put into operation. The only new feature in Mr. Glynn's report is the promise to link up the Territory with Queensland and Western Australia at some time in the dim and distant future, but it will be ten or fifteen .years before any linking-up can take place under the most favorable conditions, if the compact with South Australia is kept, and the railway across the Continent constructed. Whilst this is being done, much good work could, and should be done, to assist mining in the. Territory. It is now Federal Territory, and this Parliament is responsible for its. development. While it belonged to South Australia, a considerable sum waa advanced to prospectors and others to help them develop their claims, but what is being done by the present Government? We were told some time ago that a plant was being sent up for use on the tin-fields. I do not know whether it has reached there or got bushed; but, although the Government have had twelve months of office, with all the advantage of the plans laid by the Fisher Administration, they have not done a single thing towards the development of the country, and all the taxpayers are going to get out of their administration is a piling up of the debt. We have heard nothing this session about the development of Papua. Last session we passed a Bill authorizing the .construction of certain public works there. I wonder what has been done in that direction, for I do not think that Papua has been mentioned in this Chamber at any time during this year. Is anything being done to assist the pioneers, who are taking considerable risks, both personal and financial, in that Territory? It is the duty of every Government to assist the first settlers in a country of that description in every possible way ; but we know absolutely nothing as to what action, if any, the Government are taking to assist in the development of Papua. We passed legislation last session authorizing the creation of a Public Works Committee. What has become of it? Parliament recognised the important work with which the Committee would have to deal. It saw that before the great public undertakings of the Commonwealth could be gone on with, it would be a good thing to have a Committee to examine the proposals, and report to the Government on them; but this do-nothing Government have taken no steps towards the appointment of such a body. I suppose they could not make up their minds, or had not enough energy or backbone to do what was necessary. We have heard a good deal about their financial abilities, but we are very sorry that the people outside, and the press generally, do not share their high opinions of themselves as financiers. They have, in a very unscrupulous way, taken credit for the surplus left by the Fisher Administration, and when they are not doing that they are talking very glibly about the commitments of the Fisher Ministry. If the present Government were sent into office for any reason at all, it was to upset the commitments of the Fisher Ministry. According to our opponents the latter did nothing right, and so their commitments ought to have been cut off straight away. But we know perfectly well that one way adopted by the Government to smother up their own mismanagement of public affairs is by calling attention to the action of their predecessors. We are confident that whatever commitments the Fisher Ministry may have left, the Cook Government will leave more commitments, and more costly commitments too, to the Fisher Administration which will come into power in a few months time.

Senator Senior - They have stolen the nest egg.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am just coming to that point. I propose to quote a few sentences from an article in the Melbourne Age. Now this newspaper has never been a very consistent advocate of the Labour party or their policy, but during the last few months it must have been like a nightmare to the present Government, because of its scathing articles denouncing them, and smiting them hip and thigh, not only for their financial administration

Senator Oakes - Do not be too sure. There is plenty of time for the paper to change its views.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am not claiming that the Melbourne Age will not alter its politics. At any rate, while it is criticising the present Government, it cannot be said that it is a partisan journal. It cannot be said that the Age, because it approves of the Labour party, is finding fault with the Government. Adverse criticism of that kind is all the more valuable because it cannot be said that the Age is biased towards the Labour party. Had the Worker or the Daily Herald or some other Labour journal been dealing with the present Government in this way, we might not perhaps expect our honorable friends to place so much weight upon the criticisms; but when we recollect how the Age has dealt with the Government for the last two or three months, we can easily understand that its criticism has made them very uncomfortable indeed.

Senator Oakes - That is in keeping with the criticism of the Sydney Worker on the Labour Government of New South Wales.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Labour Government in New South Wales deserved some criticism, because they are not infallible, and a little criticism is apt to keep Governments, and members of Parliament, too, a little more straight, perhaps, than they otherwise would be. In a leading article published on the 12th June, the Age, amongst other things, said -

It will be remembered that in his Budget speech last October the Treasurer estimated the revenue of the current financial year at £21,462.000, and the gross expenditure at £27,246,747, leaving a deficit of £5,784,747, to be provided for partly out of new loan funds and partly from the accumulated surplus of £2,643,305 inherited from the Fisher Administration.

We were told by the present Treasurer, the present Prime Minister, and other members of the then Opposition that the Fisher Government never had a surplus. At the last general election, from every platform, it was hurled at the people that Mr. Fisher's claim that he had a surplus was altogether a wrong one, that he had spent every penny on which he could lay his hands, and would spend more if he could get hold of it. These were the charges made by our opponents. When the time came for the present Treasurer to make his first Budget speech, it was impossible for him to conceal the fact that there was a surplus, and now we have the confirmation of the Age. When Sir John Forrest presented the Budget - the last one, I presume, which he will ever present to the Federal Parliament-

Senator McColl - There are a lot of prophecies going about to-day. Never prophesy unless you know.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - This is merely a guess. I am calling attention to the fact that the Age states that the present Treasurer has used a considerable portion of the surplus of £2,643,305 left by the Fisher Ministry. I feel that in quoting the criticism of the Age on the financial position, I am presenting a very much stronger case than I could do by my own efforts, because, whereas my criticism might be charged with being biased, the criticism of the Age must be admitted to be absolutely fair and accurate. The article continues -

The expenditure out of revenue, on the other hand, will be £834,000 less than he originally estimated, although it is to be charged with certain lands required for defence purposes, which in the Budget were charged against loans. The whole of this £834,000, however, cannot be regarded as money saved the taxpayer. No less a sum, for example, than £200,000 has been cut out of the estimate of £1,002,000 forfleet construction, owing to the slow progress of the work; and, as this money must ultimately be paid, it is really only a piece of deferred expenditure.

Here is one of the commitments which will face the next Administration. Sir John Forrest shows this sum of £200,000 as a saving; but, as a matter of fact, it is merely a deferred payment, and deferred because of the slowness of the present Government in constructing works for which the money was intended. Further on, the writer says -

And it will be seen that the Treasurer treats the accumulated surplus left by the Fisher Government as an ordinary item of revenue. It should be needless to remark that Sir John Forrest has not a tittle of justification for this procedure.

Here is a rather severe criticism on the Treasurer from the Melbourne Age. It says that he is treating this surplus as revenue, and that he has not a tittle of justification for his action, good, bad, or indifferent -

The Cook Government has been enabled to stave off the day of reckoning during this year by having had the good fortune to inherit a huge accumulated surplus from its predecessors in office. But most of the Fisher surplus has already been spent, and it is now evident that the Government will either be forced to borrow in order to pay its way next year, or else to impose fresh taxation on the people.

The only regret the Fisher Government had, so we were told by our opponents, was that they had not more money at their command so that they could squander it, and play up in all directions. I wish now to refer to a question affecting the rolls, and to the wonderful circular which Senator Oakes told us the other day had been issued by the Labour party in New South Wales. The honorable senator told us in all seriousness that the thumb-screw was applied to Labour supporters to extort from them money with which to fight the Commonwealth elections. That is like a good many more of the wild and whirling statements made by honorable senators opposite.

Senator Oakes - Does the honorable senator say that a levy for political purposes is not put upon the unions?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - If a levy is put upon the unions it is imposed by the unionists themselves.

Senator Oakes - Exactly, and the man who does not want to pay it must either pay up or go out.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator knows nothing about the unions.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - He knows quite as much about them as the honorable senator does.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I think not. No unionist has ever been penalized because of his failure to pay a political levy.

Senator Oakes - A unionist who fails to pay such a levy may be declared unfmancial and expelled from his union so that he cannot earn a living.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is not correct. There can be no doubt that the state of the roll will have an important effect on the coming election. If the roll is clean, if every person who has the right to vote is enrolled, and every name on the roll that ought not to be there is removed - we shall be well satisfied. I desire to call attention to a case where a name has been improperly removed from the roll. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has asked to be supplied with definite cases of the kind, and I have here a letter which I am going to read for what it is worth.

Senator Oakes - That is a fair way of putting the position.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We are always fair. No one can vouch for the absolute accuracy of a letter that he receives.

Senator O'Keefe - And no one wants to vouch for that which is not accurate.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Quite so. I believe this letter was written in good faith, but I take no responsibility for the statement it contains. The writer says: -

I was advised that the name on the roll was crossed out, and was commissioned to obtain definite information. I examined the Boothby roll at the St. Peters Post Office, and saw the name crossed out. A marginal note, " Transferred to West Adelaide," is the official explanation.

The following is a declaration by the elector referred to : -

Henry-street, Stepney, St. Peters.

I herewith testify that at the previous Commonwealth elections I voted at the St. Peters Town Hall. My name is registered on the 1913 roll, since when I have occupied the same residence in Henry-street, St. Peters. During the interim I have not occupied a residence elsewhere.I distinctly state that I have not been a resident in West Adelaide. I have had no notification from the Electoral Officer regarding the removal of my name from the Boothby roll.

Ethel May Lewis.

Witness to signature - T. Barker, J.P. 23rd June, 1914.

I shall be glad if the Vice-President of the Executive Council will make inquiries and ascertain why this lady's name has been transferred from the roll for St. Peters to the West Adelaide roll.

Senator McColl - I shall be very glad to do so.

Senator O'Keefe - The trouble is that by the time inquiry is made and the mistake rectified it will be too late, perhaps, for the elector to vote.

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