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Friday, 29 May 1903

Mr McCOLL (Echuca) - There is a disposition in certain quarters to condemn the making of speeches on the address in reply. But I think it would be somer what unreasonable if this well-established practice were put on one side. There are only a few occasions upon which honorable members are enabled to speak their minds upon general topics, and to criticise the administration to any extent - the address in reply, ' the Budget, and perhaps a motion of no confidence. These speeches clear the atmosphere, enable honorable members to express their views on many questions, which perhaps during the session they might not otherwise get an opportunity of discussing. Therefore, I think reasonable time should be allowed for discussing the topics in this opening speech. I should not have risen to speak but for the address delivered the other clay by the honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, on the Murray River question, and the water question generally. So far as I can ascertain, the conduct of affairs by the Government has been giving very fair satisfaction throughout the country. Of course, opposition men, whether in or out of Parliament, will always find causes of offence on the part of the Government. Strike high or strike low, these opponents will never be satisfied, simply because the Government cannot please them, no matter what it 'does, or how long it stays in office. We can quite understand that attitude, and, of course, it discounts all their utterances. Under the somewhat stricter regime of the Commonwealth as regards customs administration "and postal administration there will be a good deal of friction, until people get used to the new conditions. The stricter administration of the laws has been the cause of dissatisfaction. But when we consider the whole subject in a fair and impartial light ; when we consider the new problems which have had to be solved, and the many changes which have had to be worked in various directions, when we consider the peculiar constitution of this House, and the way in which parties are balanced, I think it will be admitted that it would have been very difficult to obtain a Government who would have done better under the circumstances than has been done. The leader of the Opposition has been touring Australia. He has made the gravest charges ; he has, so to speak, slated the Government in every possible way. But there has been very little response indeed to his attacks. In fact, it seems to me from what I have read that in every place he has left the Government in perhaps a little stronger position than it was in before he went there. He is very desirous of raising the fiscal question again. It is somewhat difficult to understand his attitude. He declines to take office, although his friends in the press say that it is waiting for him if he will only consent to sink the fiscal question. But he declines to take office unless he can lead a free-trade majority. Seemingly he is not very anxious for office, because he must know in his inner consciousness that the chance of his leading .a freetrade majority in the House is very remote indeed. What the country wants is not a stirring up of fiscal strife, but rest, economy, and development. I should like to see the Parliament and the Government doing a little towards bringing about those three things. The opening speech is a very long one, and to me it is unsatisfactory in this respect, that it comprises nine or ten items which are associated with the expenditure of money to a very great extent, but does not contain a single item of expenditure for' the development of the country, and helping the people to earn more money than they did before, and thus meet the increased expense which, to a certain extent, the Commonwealth has brought upon them. The speech fails very much in that respect. In Australia we have gone through very bad times indeed. We have had a terrible drought. We have seen our people driven off the land after having been there for very many years. There is only one remedy for that condition of affairs, and that is the development of our resources and increased production. From beginning to end of this speech, there is not a suggestion to help our people in any way. There are many ways in which that help might be given. There is not to my mind that leaning towards economical Government which the people expected to find in the speech. I represent a farming community, and so far as I can, I intend to preach economy and practice it. Whenever an expenditure is proposed, which in my opinion is not necessary in the country it shall have my opposition, no , matter by whom it may be proposed. I think it would be a gross injustice to Australia at the present time to go to any great expense in selecting the federal capital. I am quite aware that it is provided in the Constitution that the capital shall be in New South Wales, and I am quite prepared to abide by the letter of that provision ; but no time is specified. While I am quite content to see the site of the capital selected, I shall oppose any undue expenditure of money in that connexion at the present time.

Mr Watson - Would it necessitate much expenditure immediately 1 I do not think so.

Mr McCOLL - As the honorable member knows, a Government or a Parliament always starts in a small way at first, but one thing leads on to another, and before it knows where it is it may be committed to a large expenditure, which, under present conditions in Australia, is not required, and cannot be justified. With regard to the capital, 'while I am content to see the site selected, I am not willing to go further. I am not anxious to keep the seat of government in Melbourne, and am -quite content to put up with the inconvenience of travelling to Sydney to attend the meetings of Parliament. But I intend to oppose any undue expenditure. There is also the question of the establishment of the High Court. Prom what I am able to learn, it does not appear to me that the proposed expenditure upon the High Court is justified. I do not see that there is any need for running into great expense at the present stage. Apart from that, the salaries proposed under the Bill strike me as being extremely high. We are to have a Chief Justice at £3,500 a year, and four other Judges, each of whom will receive a salary of £3,000 per annum. That is not the worst of it; for if these men become incapacitated after a few. years service they' will be in receipt of large pensions. If the Chief Justice retires from the bench after six months service he will receive a pension of £700 per annum ; if after five years service, £1,050 ; if after ten years, £1,750 ; and if after fifteen years, £2,450. Any one of the other Judges could retire after six months on a pension of £600 ; after five years on a pension of £900 ; after ten years on a pension of £1,500; and after fifteen years on a pension of £2,100. I am dead against this pension proposal. It would be even better - high as the proposed salaries are - to pay the Judges more money and allow them to make provision for their later years by insurance or otherwise. It does not seem to me that these gentlemen should be treated in a different manner from any member of the rank and file of the service. They will be paid high salaries, and should be well able to make provision for themselves, considering that, their extra expenditure will be amply covered by allowances. I do not see my way to give these proposals of "the Government my support, and there will have to be very strong reasons adduced if I am to change my views. Another proposed expenditure that is not necessary is that upon the Inter-State Commission. We have heard some little talk about friction in regard to railway rates and river charges, but it does not seem to me that there is any occasion at present for incurring the proposed expenditure. Undoubtedly we shall require an Inter-State Commission byandby, but let us wait until Australia grows in wealth, population, and importance before we bring, this body on to the stage. With regard to the much vexed question of the six hatters I do not propose to say very much. I went to a. considerable length in supporting the labour party with regard to the Immigration Restriction Act, because I recognised that Australia being so close to the vast hordes of population in Asia, there is a danger lest those people should come here and attain undue proportions, and I recognise, from what has taken place in Pennsylvania, in the United States, where large numbers of lower-paid European workmen were brought in to compete with local labour, that there is a need for imposing severe restrictions. The effect of the immigration into Pennsylvania was that not only were workmen ruined, but trade and business throughout the State were brought to a very low ebb. I was prepared, therefore, to go to a great length in support of this policy. But when the news came to hand that Britishborn workmen - men of " the bulldog breed" - had come here and been refused admission to practise their lawful avocations - agreement or no agreement - it struck me, as it did the great majority of the people of this country, with a kind of shock: Something should be done to prevent that ...-- of thing. I do not know whether the leader of the Opposition has the courage of his opinions, and is prepared to submit a clause to amend the section of the Immigration Restriction Act. If he does not propose something of that sort, I shall take it that he is not very sincere in his condemnation of the Act. I- hope that something will be done to modify the measure, so as to permit British-born workmen to have a free entrance to these portions of the British dominions. But the difficulty that has arisen might have been solved much sooner than it was had a little more judgment been shown - or perhaps I should say, had it not been for the wilful perverseness of the man who imported the six hatters. It seems to me that there was a deliberate intention not to settle the matter quickly. There was an intention on the part of the importer of the hatters to flout the Government and bring them to their knees. It seemed to be thought that the force of public opinion would compel the Commonwealth Ministry to admit the men without having regard to the provisions of the Act. For this reason, I had not so much sympathy for the employers of the men as I should otherwise have had. With reference to the subject mentioned by the honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, the other day - that of our water supply, and more especially of the use of the waters of the River Murray - I have some remarks to make. I consider that this question of water supply is one of the most important that can possibly be considered in this Chamber. There is no factor that has so much to do with the prosperity of Australia as the supply of water, and there is nothing that will tend more certainly to bring prosperity to the Commonwealth than the utilization of the water supply which we have. We have in Australia some 3,000,000 square miles. In that area there are 1,219,600 square miles of territory with a rainfall of under 10 inches. There is an area of 843,100 square miles with a rainfall of from 10 to 20 inches ; an area of 399,900 square miles with a rainfall of from 20 to 30 inches ; we have under 225,700 square miles with a rainfall of from 30 to 40 inches ; under 140,300 square miles with a rainfall of from 40 to 50 inches ; only 47,900 square miles upon which the rainfall is higher than from 50 to 60 inches per annum; while we have only 70,000 square miles upon which there is an annual rainfall of over 60 inches per annum. These are serious facts that this House should take into consideration, in we are going to develop this country. We cannot progress unless we take steps for the conservation of river waters, and the utilization of them to the fullest possible extent. Many reasons are given for the greater comparative advancement of New Zealand than the Commonwealth. Many people believe that the labour legislation has a great deal to do with it. I hold, however, that it is the land resumption policy and the water supply that have given to New Zealand the position it has to-day. Their crops are so much more certain. With us, throughout the greater part of Australia, agriculture is a pure gamble. It is a chance whether or not a man will get any return for his efforts. There are many agriculturists in Australia who sow with little certainty of getting any return. Whatever 'we can do to make the man who tills the land more secure should be done, both by the State Houses and also by the Commonwealth Parliament. How can 'we hope to get population to come here unless we improve the agricultural prospects of the country ? We cannot possibly provide for a great many more people in the cities unless we have a larger back country - unless we feed the great reservoirs, our cities, by means of the streams of production which will come from a closely-settled country.

It stands to reason that we cannot progress otherwise. We have here a large continent that is at present only settled in the proportion of one and a half to the square mile, as against 4S to the square mile in Asia and 99 in Europe. We should do all that is possible to make provision for the settlement of the population that is born in the country, and for those who may be attracted here. But it is necessary to study the geographical conditions of Australia if we are to carry out this policy. AVe have a very big country. Honorable members are as well conversant with the map of Australia as I am, but I must remind them of some features. We have here, beginning with the Grampians in Victoria, a mountain range running east, and then right up north, and then westward to Warrego. That mountain range runs from 1,000 to 7,000 feet in height. On the outside of that range every drop of the water that falls goes to the sea ; on the inside of the range, for the space of some 900 miles by 500 - some 420,000 square miles in all - every drop of water that falls, if it were possible to save it, would find its way to the junction of the Darling and the Murray. We have there our great arterial river system, which, while we have not a great rainfall - because it must be remembered that it is in the winter that we have any large rainfall, and in the summer we have scarcely any at all - offers conveniences for conserving the supply, and should enable us to make use of it in times of drought, and during the summer months. But that great catchment area is not all effective. Out of an area of 420,000 square miles there are only about 160,000 square miles which are actually effective in securing and conveying water. Much of the water that falls in the form of rain is lost in wide open spaces, and in sandy country where it percolates rapidly away. Therefore, there - is only a moiety of the area that is effective in giving water to the rivers. Of that effective area there is in Queensland, 67,690 square miles ; in New South Wales, 75,499 square miles; and in Victoria, 15,310 square miles. Although the effective area in Victoria is smaller, yet, because of its having mountains close to the Murray, it supplies a larger proportion of water to the Murray than do the other States. The Murray itself -is the main drainage course of the east and south eastern portion of Australia. The honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, says that the State which he represents gives away a large quantity of water, whereas as a" matter of fact not a drop of water which, flows into the Murray and feeds it falls within South Australia. To show what goes down the Murray, I will take the volumes of Albury and Echuca. In a high year at Albury, there flows down 264,000,000,000 cubic feet, sufficient to cover 5,2SO,000 acres 1.2 inches deep. In the lowest year known - not including last year, which may be' lower than the lowest year on the printed records- 91,000,000,000 cubic feet of water flowed by Albury, sufficient to cover 1,S20,000 acres 12 inches deep. In a mean year there are 144,000,000,000 cubic feet of water, sufficient to cover 2,880,000 acres 12 inches deep.

Mr Conroy - .Does the honorable member mean sufficient to cover that area at the season of the year when the water is wanted ?

Mr McCOLL - To enable this water to be utilized at a time when it is wanted, there would have to be a system of water conservation, so that the water would be ready for use when it was required. At Echuca, there flows down the Murray in a low year 403,000,000,000 cubic feet of water, sufficient to cover 8,060,000 acres 12 inches deep. In a low year 157,000,000,000 cubic feet is sufficient to cover 3,140,000 acres, while in a mean or average year, 254,000,000,000 cubic feet is sufficient to cover 5,080^000 acres. It will thus be seen that if we only conserve these waters - if the Government will take the matter in hand, and, with or without the co-operation of the different States, will provide storages to conserve the waters of the liver - enormous possibilities will be opened up for the interior of this continent.

Mr Conroy - Does tlie honorable member think the work would return interest?

Mr McCOLL - I shall come to that question in a moment. The honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, complained that the allotment of water which had been made to South Australia was too small. I shall deal only with the lowest - that of course will cover all the rest. Under the lowest allotment it is provided that South Australia shall have 150,000 cubic feet of water per minute passing over her boundary at Morgan. No matter how straitened New South Wales may be, no matter how straitened Victoria may be - even if our crops are perishing - this allotment, according to the agreement arrived at by the Premiers, must pass down the river at Morgan. The other States are to lose their water in order to make good that supply. According to its report the Royal Commission on the River Murray, which has been sitting, would allow in low years only 70,000 cubic feet of water to pass over the boundary at Morgan, and the arrangement made by the Premiers is one that I cannot understand. The ostensible object for which this volume of water is desired to pass over the boundary is that navigation may not be interrupted. This supply of 150,000 cubic feet per minute is to be sent down in order that South Australia's trade with the Darling and other places may not be interfered with. As a matter of fact, however, such a supply would not allow of navigation, because I understand it would allow only vessels with a draught of 2 feet to pass up and down stream. Therefore, I cannot understand why this quantity should go down the river at the expense of Victoria and New South Wales. We must remember that in conveying that quantity some hundreds of miles down to the river to the boundary at Morgan, an enormous loss of water must take place. The whole of that water could be utilized for production higher up the river, whereas it may simply be wasted in going down stream.

Mr Conroy - What would be tlie quantity that would have to pass at Balranald in order to give that supply at Morgan?

Mr McCOLL - I cannot say. I have not gone fully into the figures so far as they affect New South Wales. It may be interesting to learn what this 156,000 cubic feet of water a minute would do. It would irrigate some 1,576,000 acres of land, and surely its utilization in that way would provide a better asset for this country than would the mere passing of the water down the river in a volume which would not even allow of navigation, and would only be wasted in the sea. I do not understand why the Premier of Victoria gave away i?i regard to this point. Before leaving Melbourne for Sydney he took up a very strong attitude. He claimed that Victoria had a right to use her own waters to her own . advantage and in the best possible way.

In order to allow of navigation at Morgan the river would have to be at least 4 fed above summer level, and it would require nearly 400,000 cubic feet a minute to be sent down to secure that level. The honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, said that there was only 276,000 acres of land under irrigation in Victoria. Possibly that was the case last year, but the area of land under our irrigation trusts is nearly 2,000,000 acres. The failure to some extent of our irrigation schemes has been due not to anything essentially wrong in the schemes themselves, but to the fact that the work of conservation and distribution has not been carried out as originally projected. No loss would have been occasioned by these irrigation schemes, and there would have been no writing off of the capital advanced by the Government of Victoria to the various trusts if the original proposals had been carried out. The amount written off was not anything like as large as that mentioned by the honorable and learned member. He said that we had written off £1,750,000 on account of our irrigation schemes. That is not the case. The total amount written off consists of £1,068,399 in respect of capital, and £574,252 in respect of interest. That writing off of capital and interest, however, was in relation to water schemes which have been in progress for the last 40 years. Various local councils, waterworks trusts, and other bodies for the distribution of water participated in it. "When the whole matter came up for rectification, every local body seized the opportunity, and wherever it was found that they could not pay interest on the money advanced, a writing down took place. The amount written off in respect of our irrigation trusts was only £720,252 in respect of capital, and £337,239 in respect of interest. The writing off of capital and interest in this way is not an unusual occurrence in regard to irrigation in other countries. The whole undertaking was new to Victoria, but even new as it was, and untrained as our people were in the work of irrigation, success would have attended their efforts had the work of conservationanddistributionbeen carried out asprojected by the honorable gentleman who is now Attorney-General of the Commonwealth. In that event there would have been no scarcity of water. Drawbacks might have been experienced during the first few years, but the irrigation trusts would have ultimately proved a success. We are now anxious that these works for the conservation and distribution of water should be carried out, and we require the water supply to make the trusts the success which they should have been years ago. Complaint is made that the Victorian Government are constructing works of great magnitude which will carry large volumes of water over our country. I would point out, however, that those works are not being constructed with a view of depriving the people of South Australia or others lower down the river of the supplies they require in the low seasons. They are being constructed so large because during the winter months, when water is rather a curse than a blessing to other places, enormous volumes which flow down our streams could be barred in their way to the sea, and conveyed over thousands and thousands of acres in the north-west as well as over the northern plains. There it could be stored in dams, lakes, reservoirs, and otherplacesforuseduringthesummer months. Honorable 'members know that under the conditions which prevail in our northern districts a farmer is always certain of a good crop if he can give his land a flooding in winter, and whilst a large area to the west does not look for water when it is wanted elsewhere, if it could only get it at a time when it is being wasted, the farmers there would be able to make a living, and by means of their increased production increase to a very great extent the prosperity of the country.

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