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Wednesday, 24 September 1902

Mr SPEAKER - There is no point of order in what the honorable member for Macquarie has raised, unless he feels that the words of the Acting Prime Minister reflect upon him personally.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I regard the words of the Acting Prime Minister as a personal reflection. "Mr. SPEAKER.- If that is the feeling of the honorable member, I must ask the Acting Prime Minister to withdraw the words.

Mr Deakin - I withdraw the words as applying to the honorable member, but my statement is absolutely true.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then I ask to whom the Acting Prime Minister did refer ?

Mr SPEAKER - The Acting Prime Minister says that his statements had no reference to the honorable member for Macquarie, and the withdrawal must be accepted.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - When interrupted I was stating that I brought the papers with me this evening. I do not know whether any honorable member saw that I had the papers, but it was agreed between the Acting Prime Minister and myself, when it was thought that the Electoral Bill would be dealt with by 9 o'clock, that I should proceed with the motion to-night. I did take exception to going on with the matter at so late an hour, because I felt that little was to be gained We all know that the debate must take up one day or, at any rate, nearly a day, and it would have been a waste of time to commence to-night after nine o'clock. However, in deference to the wishes of the Acting Prime Minister, I was prepared to go on with my speech, which in any case will not be a long one. When I first initiated the idea of members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives visiting the proposed federal sites, I was met with a storm of opposition from that section of the press which represents the gentlemen who now sit opposite the Government. I am now speaking of the Sydney press, which did everything possible by means of ridicule to break down my proposal. That opposition has continued ever since, but as my colleagues know, I am determined to break down the antagonism of those who wish to get the matter into their own hands or delay it indefinitely.

Mr Wilks - What about the Melbourne press 1

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I say nothing about the Melbourne press ; I am now speaking of those who complain that there has been undue delay.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the Minister accuse the Opposition of causing delay ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Yes. I refuse to be bullied by honorable members opposite, or to allow misstatements about my actions to be made in the press of New South Wales. I have been, as others have not been, true to New South Wales, but I do not talk loudly of what I wish to do. I did not wish to speak with so much heat, but I feel that 1 have been unfairly dealt with by honorable members opposite. I intend to consult the Acting Prime Minister, and I am sure that he and my other honorable colleagues will agree to deal with this motion immediately after the general debate on the Estimates, and before we enter into the lengthy detailed discussion of the items. I hope honorable members are satisfied that I am doing my best to carry this matter through. In reply to the question raised by the honorable member for North Sydney, I have to say that - 1 gave- my replies to-day with as much detail as- was possible. The honorable member knows perfectly well that in dealing with the question of the river waters of Australia, the Commonwealth has powers only so far as navagation is concerned. If the Government were to do as the honorable member suggests, and- caution either the State of Victoria or the State of New South Wales not to interfere with the waters of the Murray, or of any of the rivers, I am afraid that we should get a nice snub; and I refuse to put myself in that position. That is the reason I referred in the language which I did to the very delicate questions asked to-day ; I desired not to say one word that could be construed as dictating to any State. I know the question has been' raised as to the filling of the Waranga basin with waters diverted from the Murray, but these works are undertaken by the State, and the State must take the responsibility. It must be remembered, however, that works to the extent of £200,000 a year are being proposed in New South Wales, and if a caution were given 'to Victoria, the. Government would be called on to extend that caution to New South Wales. Under the circumstances, I refuse to put myself in the position of being told by a State Government to mind my own business.

Mr Poynton - What about other States which are just as much interested ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I am only referring to the two States in which it is proposed to spend a large sum of money in diverting the waters of the Murray or its tributaries.

Mr Poynton - And which works may deprive other States of water.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - That is where the necessity arises for the replies I gave to-day. If it be shown that the work done seriously interferes with the navigation of the river, then the Commonwealth will have power to act without asking either of the States. But until one or other of the States, or, indeed, all the States, ask the Commonwealth to deal with conservation, irrigation, and diversion of, as well as with navigation, we have no power under the Constitution.

Mr Thomson - But there is need for inquiry to ascertain whether these works will interfere with navigation.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Inquiry cannot tell us that until after the work is done. A Royal commission is inquiring into the matter now, and one of- the main portions of its report will relate to the storing of water at various reaches from Albury upwards. If that be done, the water taken by the States of Victoria and New South Wales will not affect navigation in the slightest degree, but if the river is tapped I have no doubt there will be interference. We have to take the whole question into consideration, and it will be quite time to deal with the matter when we have the report of the commission.

Mr Poynton - Does the Minister not think it would be fair to ask the Statesto' hold their hand while the commission is sitting?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - This is a. delicate matter. "We know how jealous the States are of interference' by the Federal -Government or by the Federal Parliament, and for that reason I do not desire to make any statement as to what I think the States should do.

Mr Poynton - Does the Minister not think that the Federal Parliament ought to express- an opinion on the matter ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I question very much whether the Federal Parliament ought to express an opinion, because it would not be a very pleasant thing for us to be told to mind our own business. I have thought this question out, and I, myself, wrote the answers which I gave to the honorable member for North Sydney. Even if the works' are -carried out, and the effect- is as the honorable member for North Sydney, or as the representatives of South Australia may fear, then the Federal Parliament can step in and prevent this water from being taken, until such time as reservoirs are provided to' keep the stream up to navigation level. This question would not have been so difficult hod this House agreed to pass an InterState Commission Bill this session. I met objections by altering that Bill, and I feel that the opposition to it was unreasonable. -Had the measure been passed, we should have had a body to deal with the very important questions which are now raised, whereas in the absence of such, legislation, we are helpless. We should have great trouble under the Constitution, without on Inter-State Commission Act, in providing machinery to deal with the question as the honorable member for North Sydney wishes.

I must apologize for taking up so much timeat this hour, but this is a very important question, and the position of the honorable member for North Sydney demands that I should pay considerable attention to what he says. I have done my best, and I can assure honorable members that the Government, my department, and myself will be very vigilant. This is a question which I have been closely associated with from 1880, once as a member of a previous Royal commission, and I take the deepest interest in it. I cannot place myself in any invidious or improper position, and can- only assure honorable- members that everything possible will be done to- prevent any serious trouble.

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