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Thursday, 6 May 1915

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) .- During this discussion a number of things have been said which I think I ought to refer to before the motion is disposed of, although some of them were said so long ago that perhaps those who were responsible for them have forgotten them. I understand that there is still another honorable senator who would like to take part in the debate if it could be held that I have so far not spoken in reply.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator has commenced his speech in reply. There was ample time for another honorable senator to- have risen after Senator Buzacott concluded his speech.

Senator PEARCE - I should like, first of all, to say that we welcome Senator Milieu's assurance that the Opposition in this chamber and in another place are prepared to give the Government every assistance in connexion with measures designed to carry the war to a successful issue. Senator Millen took some exception to the Government introducing what he spoke of as controversial legislation, and pointed out the position in Great Britain ; but I think that on reflection he will see that the Government and the Parliament of Australia are not in quite the same position as the Government and the Parliament of Great Britain. It is true that we are trying to do our part to the best of our ability, but the political direction of the war, the responsibility for any diplomatic action which may arise during the war, and rho main responsi- bility of providing the Army and keeping the Fleet going, must rest with the British Government. One can quite understand that were we charged with that responsibility to the same extent it would furnish an unanswerable reason why all other political questions should stand aside. But when we come to consider the position of Australia, I think it would be rather farfetched for any one to say that the condition here is sufficient to justify all but war legislation being put on one side. The national life of the country is going on, and the party sitting on this side of the Chamber believe that the legislation they promised the people should be brought forward. I remind honorable senators opposite that our party promised the legislation after the war had started. I presume that, in voting for the representatives of our party, the people voted for them on the assumption that they would carry out that promise. Although the legislation we may introduce is, in a sense, controversial, yet I do not think it can be argued that the controversy arising out of it is likely to weaken the national effort, or to interfere with the endeavour of the country or of Parliament as a whole. Both sides will do their best to assist the Empire in the hour of trouble. Therefore, it does not appear to the Government that there is a justification for setting aside that legislation - although, politically, it is controversial. We are not by the controversy dividing the nation or weakening the attitude of the Government or of Parliament in doing its duty to other portions of the Empire. Senator Needham and other honorable senators have raised a question as to why such a small proportion of the appropriation for public works has been spent up to the date given in the Ministerial statement, namely, the 28th February. The explanation is a very simple one, and a little reflection will bring home to honor- ' able senators the facts. It will be remembered that, owing to the disorganized state of Parliament, politically speaking, during the current financial year, practically no Works Estimates have been passed. Indeed, no Estimates for the year have been passed yet. We went to the country towards the end of 1914, and when Parliament was re-assembled, one of the first measures we introduced was a Works and Buildings (Appropriation) Bill. It was passed fairly quickly and assented to, I think, towards the end of the year. At the time the Ministerial statement was made, in February, practically only two months had been available in which to spend that money. The Works Estimates, as n rule, outline the expenditure on public works for the financial year. At the most we had only six months of the financial year left in which to spend the money voted in December last. At the time the Ministerial statement was made we .had only two out of the six months in which to act. That is why, out of a total vote of about £4,000,000, only £1,200,000 has been spent. When Senator Needham made his speech some time had elapsed, but if the statement is examined it will be found that the date was the 28th February. Since then a considerable portion of the money has been spent. Every Department is doing its best to see that the whole amount which Parliament has authorized to be spent on public works shall, if possible, be expended within the financial year. It is no reflection on the Government that that set of conditions exists. It was no fault of ours that the Works Estimates were not passed early - The delay was due to the fact that a general election had intervened, and that there had been no opportunity for Parliament to pass the Estimates.

Senator Needham - So long as you have the cash system for public works you will always have that trouble.

Senator PEARCE - Yes, that objection will always apply to Parliament while we continue that system. No matter how willing it may be to go on with public works, a Department cannot commence any work, however necessary, until it has been authorized by Parliament. It may be that, owing to the exigencies of the political situation, a set of conditions such as existed last year may arise again, in which six months of the financial year may elapse and no Department can do anything except to finish up work already in hand; it cannot proceed with a single work until Parliament has expressed its opinion.

Senator Millen - It will not arise in this Parliament. The weakness of the cash system is that if an amount is not spent by the 30th June, it lapses.

Senator PEARCE - That is so. During last year all works taken in hand by the Commonwealth after the 30th June had, until the Works Estimates were brought forward, to be financed out of the Treasurer's advance. I assure honorable senators that there has not been any unnecessary delay in the matter. I may mention that steps are being taken now to prepare the next Works Estimates so as to bring them forward very early in the ensuing financial year. We hope that when that is done we may have a full year, or as much of the year as is possible, in which to spend the votes. I may as well quote the dates I have here. Parliament voted £4,000,000, and up to the 28th February £1,000,000 had been spent. Parliament re-assembled on the 8th October, 1914; the Works and Buildings (Appropriation) Bill was passed on the 9th October, and assented to on the 12th October. Honorable senators are aware that the big expenditure does not take' place in the early stages. On preliminary work there is not much expenditure; the' big expenditure does not occur for a few months, and then a greater number of men can be employed. It is safe to say that in the later stage the expenditure on public works is more than doubled.' Senator de Largie referred to the question of strategic railways, and spoke in favour of an extension of the railway systems tu Australia. This is a question in which I am glad to see the Parliament, the press, and the people are beginning to take an increasing interest. But there has been a considerable amount of misapprehension, as is generally the case, as to what is intended and aimed at. By the stirringevents of the last few months a good number of us have had our attention directed to the map of Europe. A glance at a map drawn to enable people to follow the course of the war, discloses what a tremendous advantage her railway system has given to Germany. It resembles a spider's cobweb, with Berlin as the centre, and lines radiating from that centre to every point of the compass in German territory, and cross sections connecting the radiating lines. The system has enabled Germany to rush her troops to any point attacked, and to reinforce them in any quarter with great rapidity. One marked advantage is that the railways belong to one system, with one gauge, and, therefore, the whole rollingstock of the nation can, if necessary, be concentrated on one line. It is not merely a question of lines. The fundamental principle at the back of this' policy is to be able to utilize all the nation's rolling-stock. You may have thousands of miles of railway line, but if you have only an infinitesimal quantity of rolling-stock to put on the lines, they are of no value to you from the military point of view. When we glance at the map of Russia, what do we find? We see a few lines of great length, but not connected one with the other. All are run to the interior of the country, and enable troops to be brought from such points as Moscow and Petrograd to the frontier, but once the troops have been brought there, there are no connecting lines to enable them to be taken to the south or north as may be required. Therefore, when a transference of troops is required for the north or the south, they have to be either taken back to the base because there are no cross-country lines, or marched across the country; whereas across the border in Germany, troops can be taken north or south by railway, and all the rolling-stock of the nation can be concentrated on the lines for that purpose. Now, Australia is a country of magnificent distances, with a great coastline. We never will know where an enemy may come. An enemy has the choice of our coastline on which to make an attack, and the range of visibility of his ships - other than by picking up their location by scouting vessels, and disseminating the information by wireless - is very short. So that unless we can locate his shins at sea, we may get very short notice from the time they are located from the land before troops land on our coast, and we have to attack at that point. The railway systems in Australia approximate more closely to the railway system of Russia than to that of Germany. We have lines of great length running between various capitals, but except in the more closely populated areas, those lines are not connected by cross sections linking up one railway system with another. Again, when we come to look into the question of what the lines consist of, we find a multiplication of railway gauges isolating each State, and therefore cutting up Australia, from the railway point of view, into six compartments, and isolating the railway rolling-stock of each State in some cases into two compartments in the State. South Australia, with a broad and narrow gauge, has a certain quantity, of rolling-stock, but the available rollingstock on any lines in the State has to be divided up by two-

Senator Guthrie - By three, because there is a number of railways not connected.

Senator PEARCE - By three when the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge is there; at any rate by two. The whole rolling-stock of South Australia is not available for the military operations on any single line in the State. The rolling-stock of Victoria i3 available for Victoria only. You can, if it is feasible from a railway point of view, put the rolling-stock of Victoria for military purposes on any one line in the State; you can take the rolling-stock to Adelaide, but you cannot take it across the Murray into New South Wales; nor can you take the rolling-stock of New South Wales into Queensland or Victoria. The result is that we have not only to divide up our rolling-stock into six compartments, but some of the compartments we have again to subdivide by two. Military strategists have looked at the railway systems in Australia. We have the opinion of Lord Kitchener, apart from the question of rolling-stock, that they seem more designed to help the enemy than to help us to defend the country. General Hutton - and, I think, General Edwards before him - made the same statement. The causes, of course, are obvious. Our railway systems were built to induce and assist settlement, and the various Parliaments had little or no idea of constructing railways for defence purposes. More consideration was given to that aspect in the discussion of the east-west railway than in the case of any other in Australia. Any one who looks up the debates of the State Parliaments on railway construction proposals will find defence seldom mentioned in any of them. Unfortunately our population is largely confined to the big cities. Onehalf the population of New South Wales and Victoria is concentrated in the capitals of each State. If an attack were about to be launched against Brisbane, it might be necessary, in order to meet it, to bring to bear the whole of our Military Forces available, apart from those that must be left to defend the fortifications. Imagine a regiment having to leave Perth on its way to Brisbane. Senator de Largie drew a picture of the difficulties of an imaginary passenger. How much worse would it be in the case of a regiment, to say nothing of a brigade or an army, owing to changing from one gauge to another, and the necessity to go to places miles out of the direct route?Military people also stress the point that it is of no use landing our soldiers in Brisbane a regiment at a time. That would simply be inviting them to be gobbled up. They must be landed as an army in Brisbane or within such distance of it that) they can collect as an army, and then move to meet the enemy. If they were landed in driblets, we should never get a striking force, because the enemy could follow them up and drive them back, wiping them out as we sent them along. That is where the military people stress the importance of being able to concentrate on any particular line the whole of the available rolling-stock that the line can carry, so as to throw the greatest number of troops in the shortest possible time upon a given point.

Senator Bakhap - Can it not be done more readily by sea transport?

Senator PEARCE - If the enemy can come here, our command of the sea is gone, and «with it our right to sea transport.

Senator Bakhap - It may be only a raid.

Senator PEARCE - It is generally agreed that no troops will be sent by sea while anything like a respectable naval force is at large. When the three Russian cruisers got out of Vladivostock, although the Japanese fleet was superior to them, during the fortnight those ships were out no transport crossed the Yellow Sea.

Senator Bakhap - They sank some of them.

Senator PEARCE - The cruisers did sink several transports. The railway systems of Australia have followed settlement. Wherever settlement has occurred in one district, although there may be two other districts, and the three may form a triangle, the railway has followed the lines of the triangle in order to get the trade from each district. The consequence is that, even in our main trunk lines, there is an enormous increase of mileage owing to the diversions made here and there and everywhere in order to make the line payable, and to make it suit as many people as possible. Our lines, therefore, are open to these objections: They have not been laid out from a strategic point of view. They are broken up into a number of different gauges, making it impossible to concentrate the full power of our rolling-stock, and they are open to the third objection, in some cases the strongest, that some of the main trunk lines' - and especially the lines connecting vital points - are open to sea attack. An enterprising enemy in possession of the sea could launch an attack at vital points on some of our lines by a mere boating expedition. To defend them over the length to which they are vulnerable would absorb the whole of our Army. Another serious objection to the present railway system from a military point of view is this : the main trunk ranges are approximately from 40 to 100 miles back from the coast. There are the range running right down the eastern coast, the Dividing Range running across Victoria, and the Mount Lofty Range running 20 miles back from the coast near Adelaide. That range running right around the coast is one of the features of Australia. The most fertile land with the best rain,fall, generally speaking, lies between it and the coast, and, consequently, population has settled on those plains and valleys between the range and the sea. The railways, in order to suit the population, have therefore been diverted into the most mountainous portions of the country, thus necessitating high grades, greater power to carry heavy loads, and increasing the cost of locomotion. The main trunk line between Sydney and Brisbane runs through a very mountainous region for the greater part of the way. This necessitates great locomotive power, and reduces haulage capacity. These are the objections that have to be looked at, and the question arises as to what we are to do to remedy them if we are to utilize our railway systems for defence. Surely no honorable senator or publicist outside would advocate leaving the railways out of consideration for defence. They must surely play a most prominent part in any Australian defence scheme. Can we do anything to remove all or any of these objections by dealing with existing railways ? Will the unification of the gauges remedy them ali ? It will certainly overcome the objection as to making the rolling-stock available. If we unify all the gauges, and have one uniform rollingstock, we can utilize the whole of it wherever we require it, but look at the magnitude of that task ! The only thing that has yet been discussed as within the region of practical politics is the unification of the gauges of the main trunk lines. Even that appalls those who look into the question closely by its magnitude and cost. When the difficulties that will be raised in carrying it out are considered, it will be realized that that proposal is by no means out of the wood yet. Even after we have solved it, what have we obtained ? Suppose we get the six States in agreement - and unless we assert our right, and do it for defence purposes, we can only do it by agreement with the States - what will happen ? Suppose that we are going to unify the trunk lines between Adelaide and Melbourne, and between Melbourne and Sydney, look at the enormous railway system Victoria has outside the trunk lines, which only tap the territory through which they run. The great part of the Defence Forces would still be cut off from railway connexion with the other States, except by using another gauge, with all its objections of transfer from one gauge to the other. Therefore the unification of the gauge on the main trunk lines would not cure the evil that I have pointed out of not making available the whole of the rollingstock. There would still be the rollingstock on the lines running into the trunk lines. The troops in whatever part of Australia they were located would still have to use the 5-ft. 3-in. line, until they came to the 4-ft. 8i-in. main trunk line,

Senator Millen - That difficulty will remain if you build the proposed line on any gauge.

Senator PEARCE - It will remain, although it will be modified. Even after we have done that, we shall not yet have overcome three other objections - first, the roundabout way and intricate route that many of these railways take; second, the fact that they go through the heavier country with steeper grades; and, third, and most vital of all, that in a number of places they are open to easy attack by an enterprising landing party, and that an army would bo required to defend them from such attacks. If the map was wiped clear of railways, our populations remaining where they are, and we had to construct railways from a defence point of view to link up the five main centres, where the greatest number of the Forces are located, in order to enable any four of them to take the shortest, speediest, and safest means of transporting all their available troops to the other one threatened by attack, we certainly would not follow the existing lines, or go anywhere near them. We would build the railway system, not on the coastal side, but on the interior side of our ranges, where it would be safe from attack from the sea because of distance, because every mile of distance means increasing the strength of the landing party. We would follow the more direct lines, and avoid the heavy grades. They could then be put on a radial system as the German railways are. The five big centres of population of this country are almost in a circle, or, at any rate, three parts of a circle. They could interchange troops from one to the other with great rapidity if we built a radial railway system like the spokes of a wheel or the ribs of a spider's web.

Senator de Largie - What centre would you have them radiate from ?

Senator PEARCE - The view I give is my own view, but if you look at the map you will find that Broken Hill is practically the hub of a wheel-

Senator de Largie - Port Augusta.

Senator PEARCE - Broken Hill is practically the hub of a wheel, and from there the railway systems could radiate in all directions. I recognise that we could not have such railways for strategic purposes only.

Senator Millen - As the capital cities are on the coastline it is obvious that a portion of the railway must comd along the coastline through the mountain range.

Senator PEARCE - But not running as they do now - crossing and recrossing.

Senator Millen - They must cross it twice.

Senator PEARCE - Not always. For instance, take the range at Adelaide. A line such as I have indicated would go right down through the flat of South Australia, and avoid crossing the range at all. However, I am not debating the question of routes. No routes have been decided upon ; none have been discussed. I am pointing out the general principles which I believe underlie this question of strategic railways. We have also to recognise as practical men that a railway system cannot be advocated solely for strategic purposes. In a country of such vast distances as Australia, to establish lines for war purposes only would be to create too heavy a burden for the country to carry, and, therefore, the question arises as to whether such lines cannot be built to serve the double purpose - to be useful and available from the strategic point of view, and at the same time to assist in the trade and development of Australia. I believe they can. The interior of this country is capable of being much more closely settled than it now is, but I believe that settlement can only be effected by means of a satisfactory railway policy; and I say further, that the only way of dealing with the interior of Australia will be by a railway policy. We have had two very bitter object-lessons in this regard, in the drought of 1902 and in the present drought. I know that there are pastoralists in New South Wales who have at great expense imported stud sheep, and who, in order to keep these stud sheep alive, have had to bring lucerne from the northern rivers district of "that State. How have they brought it? It has been brought by boats down the rivers, transhipped at Sydney, taken along to Melbourne, and then carried by rail away into the interior. In the 1902 drought, millions of stock died, although, had there been then a railway system upon which the stock could have been carried, a great quantity could have been put to some purpose commercially; possibly a large number would have been saved had it been possible to depasturize them on some of the coastal land. We know as a matter of fact 'that the railways, inadequate as they were at the time .to cope .with the removal of stock, played a very big part in mitigating the blow that fell on owners of live stock, but the loss would -have been considerably less if the railway system had been able to transfer stock from the more arid regions of the interior. Then we have to look at the possibilities of development in other directions. Any person who has been a student of Australian geography will be very loath to label any part of Australia as desert. When I went to school I saw portions of Australia marked on the map as " desert."

Senator Bakhap - Our latest maps show it.

Senator PEARCE - I think it is a mistake. I was taught that certain portions of Australia were desert, and yet I, a comparatively young man, have lived to see hundreds of people settled in comfort upon it.

Senator Keating - Some of the maps of the United States of America are 'bo marked.

Senator PEARCE - Quite so.; but still I am one of those who believe that much of the interior of Australia, now very little used, will, in time to come, be found to be of very considerable value to Australia.

Senator de Largie - The desert is disappearing every year.

Senator PEARCE - Portions of Australia that are only used to a certain extent now would, in my opinion, be capable of infinitely greater use if they, had railway connexion. In the interior of Australia we have a vast country that is, I admit, practically unknown. It has been " scratched," to use a mining term, but no one can say that it has been thoroughly prospected. The scratching nevertheless, has revealed the fact that there are minerals of various kinds in existence; and the prospect of some of these places being developed and supporting a large population is very promising. But while these portions of the country are isolated, and accessible only by means of the camel, nobody expects to see anything like a large population upon them ; and the only chance these districts have of development is by means of railways. These strategic railways, no matter what lines they follow, if they link up the main of our population, must cross through the very points I have referred to as being capable of development. If we pan serve a double purpose - and I believe we can - by opening up and populating the interior .of Australia, not only will the possession pf these linesstrengthen us from the defence point of view, but, what is of incalculably more value, they will help to build up a population in the interior of Australia, and make every portion of Australia much safer than it is at present. The greatest safety Australia could have would be .'» big population in its interior, because then the military portion of that population would be available at any point .of the compass to meet any attack which might come. As the position is now, the military value pf the population, say, of Queensland to meet an attack in Western Australia is very small. If the same population were put in the centre of Australia, every mile that that population would be brought nearer to Western

Australia would increase its military value. Therefore, if these lines assist to develop the interior by settling a bigger population, that circumstance alone will bo of immense military value to Australia, in addition, of course, to any economic value the railways might possess. Let us assume that the lines would be a losing proposition; that they would not pay interest and working expenses for many years. Even then, I venture to say that the insurance policy which they would represent would be worth something to Australia. What are the railways of Germany . worth to her today,apart altogether from their economic value? I say the railways of Germany are worth a million soldiers to her.

Senator Bakhap - But no German railways are purely strategic railways.

Senator PEARCE - Accidentally, Germany struck a. magnificent strategic system. But the fact that Germany has such a network of railways is worth to her a million soldiers, by the manner in which - unless the newspapers have led us astray - the railways hive enabled troops to be carried from one front to another. Reports from neutral sources, Danish and Dutch, toll of the immense transfers of troops that have taken place from the west to the east, and from the east to the west - transfers that have enabled a tremendous attack to be launched at some given point on either one side or the other. This is too big a question to be dogmatic about; but it ought not to be dismissed with a mere predilection for one kind of gauge, Or as to whether the existing railways are all that they ought to be. It ought to receive the fullest inquiry from every Federal aud State politician, from every person who is interested in the development of this country, and, above all, from every person who is interested in seeing the country safe, As to what routes tha railway should follow, that is, after all, a matter of detail, but I do say that the existing railway systems of Australia stand condemned, from the military point of view, as being of no Teat assistance to us in time of war. Something is needed to either take their place or to adapt them to meet present requirements, and it seems to me that it would be better policy, at any rate in some instances, to substitute new lines altogether, not as competing lines with existing lines, but in order to give us what these other lines can never give, no matter how they are altered, and no matter what their gauge may be. I arn glad that this question was raised, and I make no apology for following it up, because I think that the more it is discussed, and the greater exchange of opinion we can get upon it, the better it will . be for the future development of Australia on sound lines. Honest criticism that is not tainted with State jealousy will be useful and valuable. T believe the more the question is criticised, the more public attention is directed to it, the more good will flow from its having been brought forward. Senator Shannon - I now come back to a much smaller matter; the only excuse I make for referring to it is that I find it next on my notes - raised a question as regards the clause that has been inserted in the Defence contracts known as clause 31 («) That authorizes the Minister, or arl officer delegated by him, to visit a factor)' or works where a Defence contract is being carried but, during the meal hour, or at such place as the employer sets apart for the men to have their meals in, for the purpose of interviewing the employes as to labour conditions. This clause Was riot introduced without some consideration. Inspectors are appointed by the Department whose duty it is to see that the conditions in contracts are observed.

Senator Needham - It is just as well you have them, too.

Senator PEARCE - It is, of course, necessary. These inspectors are appointed generally because of the special technical knowledge they may have of cloth, leather, or timber, or iron, or of some particular process of manufacture. That is a qualification we look for whenthey are appointed. In addition to having to inspect the goods from these points of view, they are supposed, also, to see that the labour conditions are carried out. These men are not familiar with all the various awards and conditions and decisions of Arbitration Courts, and Wages Boards, of hours of labour, rates of wages, piece-work, and all the various ramifications of industry. My experience is that when we have been carrying out these contracts, we have found charges and counter-charges regarding an award or a determination of the Arbitration Court or a Wages Board not having been observed, and it is extremely difficult for the officers of the Department always to find out exactly what is being done, because the officer does not know to whom to apply. He gets the employer's version, but when it comes to the men he does not know who to apply to. The men have their representative in Hie union which is formed to safeguard their interests, and in an organization of this kind it is their business to familiarize themselves with the conditions of the contract. As a matter of fact, the officials of the unions do become familiar with all the various ramifications of an industry, the determination of a Wages Board, and how it affects their position. One of the conditions of these contracts is that a Jog of wages shall be posted ur» in a factory so that the workers may be able to see what they are entitled to get. That clause was inserted, because we know very well from experience that even if men or women working for a contractor felt that they were not getting what they were entitled to, they would be diffident about approaching an employer because of the fear of dismissal, and, therefore, the union official, who is not under that particular employer, is allowed to visit those factories to see that the conditions are being observed. It is not their business to inspect the factory, and to probe into the affairs of the employer to find out the secrets of his business.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They are not acting as spies.

Senator PEARCE - No; it is their duty to go to the employes, and to say to them, " Here is my authority; I am delegated by the Minister or the Commandant to tell you that these are the conditions and the wag-ss which you are expected to get. Are you getting them ?" It might be that somebody is not getting the wages mentioned in the contract, and it would then be the business of the delegate to go to the employer and represent the position to him, so that he might rectify the trouble, or make a complaint to the Department that the conditions were not being carried out. That is the whole sum and substance of this action, and I do not see that any logical objection can be taken to it.

Senator O'Keefe - No employer who wished to do the right thing would object.

Senator PEARCE - I know some employers feared that we were introducing what is known in America as a " walking delegate, " into the conditions of our contracts here. I believe that in America the walking delegates did abuse their power from time to time, and it is said they extorted money from the employers, threatening them with a strike if they were not paid.

Senator Bakhap - I do not think that the walking delegate in America has any power conferred upon him by the Legislature.

Senator PEARCE - I have already pointed out to the employers that in the event of such a thing happening here, they have their remedy. If a man under' any authority from the Minister, "or an officer delegated bv the Minister, attempted to do anything of that kind, it would be the duty of the employer to report to the Minister that such a man was misusing his power, and if any complaint of that nature came before me, I would have no hesitation whatever in acting promptly, for I would be no party to allowing any unionist to use this power improperly. So far I have had no complaints from employers, although the system has been adopted practically everywhere. Only two or three employers have refused to sign contracts.

Senator Guthrie - It has been the rule in many employments for over twenty years.

Senator PEARCE - Yes, I think the seamen have had the advantage of this system for a great number of years.

Senator Lt Colonel O'loghlin - Most reasonable employers like a delegate to go in and see their employes.

Senator PEARCE - Yes, that is so. In the coal mining industry there is a check weighman elected by the men and recognised by the employer. As a matter of fact, he holds an official position on the mine.

Senator Needham - The same thing obtains in Great Britain.

Senator PEARCE - Referring again to the subject of railways, I am reminded that Senator Newland raised the question of the north-south line, and I may say that at the present time we are taking action with regard to the survey of that railway. If honorable senators will look at the map again they will see that the line from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie bends away to the north-west from Port Augusta, and then westward, and that the line from Oodnadatta to Port Augusta continues almost in the quarter of a circle away to the east, the two routes being divided from each other by Lake Eyre. The Government believe that when the construction of the north-south line is under consideration it would probably be found more economical and better to link it up with the east to west railway some distance from Port Augusta, thus saving the cost of construction of portion of the line. We are having a survey made between Lake Windabout and Anna Creek.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel O'loghlin. - Will that sh.or.ten the distance?

Senator PEARCE - If honorable senators will look at the map they will see that it probably will shorten the distance.

Senator Millen - That will leave the Oodnadatta line idle, will it not?

Senator PEARCE - Anybody who has seen that railway will realize that it cannot be used as portion of the transcontinental line, because it will have to be relaid and the gauge altered to 4 ft. 8£ in. In view of the fact that this will have to be done', the Government think that it would be just as well to adopt a better route if one is available than to accept arbitrarily the existing route, simply because there happens to be a railway there at the present time. Accordingly, we are getting a survey made in order to have estimates of the cost of construction available for the information of honorable senators. A survey from Oodnadatta northwards was made many years ago, and that data is available for the information of the Government. Arrangements are now being made for surveys from Catherine River southwards, so that before long we shall have the data and be able to submit to Parliament an estimate of the probable cost of the whole line. I am not in a position to say what the policy of the Government will be then - whether to construct the whole line, or only a portion of it - but I arn giving this information to-day so that honorable senators will see that the Government are not neglecting this matter, but are obtaining definite information in the only way possible - namely, by having a survey made.

Senator Guthrie - Why was the Northern Territory Commission recalled?

Senator PEARCE - I do not know, because I was not in that Government. Senator O'Loghlin, in his speech, dealt with the statement made by Mr. Peake, the ex-Treasurer of South Australia, concerning the loan of £18,000,000 which we have received from the British Govern ment. I answered the honorable senator to-day, telling him that the British Government had loaned £18,000,000 for war purposes only, while the Commonwealth Government have arranged to provide the States with £18,000,000 for local needs. No doubt many people noticed the similarity in the sums, and have come to the conclusion that we were simply juggling with figures when we said that we were borrowing the money for war, and were not giving it to the States to spend on works.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - That is practically what Mr. Peake says.

Senator PEARCE - As a matter of fact, that is not so. We are advancing to the States money for their requirements at the rate of £1,500,000 per month, and so far that money has been advanced from the Bank Notes Trust Account. There is similarity in the figures, and that is all.

Senator Needham - Will the Minister indicate what the Government propose to do with regard to the firms I referred to?

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator a few days ago referred to a couple of Western Australian firms who had been attempting to supply inferior material in departmental contracts. I am glad he paid a tribute to the watchfulness of the departmental officers. When Senator Needham brought that matter before me, I telegraphed to Western Australia, and I have received samples of the boots in the one case, and of the candle tins in the other. I have now asked my expert officers to submit a report upon them, after comparing them with the samples. We have also sent for the full file from Western Australia, so that we may have the whole of the facts before us, and may know what to do. When I get them I intend to go into the matter thoroughly. I cannot commit myself to a statement as to what I shall do, because I have not the whole facts before me yet, but I may say that, on general principles, the Government will deal severely with any persons who deliberately try to get at the Department in a time like the present. We now have the power to deal with them under the legislation passed recently, and, if necessary, can put them in the dock, or strike them off the list of contractors, though to strike them off would hp. rather a mild and innocuous punishment, which perhaps can be evaded. I may say that in the case of one firm I know they did try to circumvent the Government by getting two or three dummies to send in tenders for them but we are now dealing with them in another way.

Senator Needham - You ought to put them in the dock.

Senator PEARCE - I think it is only fair to say that, considering the enormous quantity of material we have had to obtain from contractors, on the whole we can congratulate ourselves that the traders of Australia have endeavoured to give us a. square deal.

SenatorNeedham. - I only mentioned those two firms, and I realize that the others have been honest.

Senator PEARCE - I shall certainly be no party to dealing gingerly with any firm that deliberately tries to get at the Commonwealth at this time, when we require the very best that is available in any contract for Commonwealth purposes. I do not know that there are any other matters dealt with by the various speakers to which it is necessary I should refer, and I have now only to thank them generally for the helpful nature of the criticisms they thought it well to bring forward.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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