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Wednesday, 21 October 1903

Mr FOWLER (Perth) - I desire to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., " The survey and construction of the proposed transcontinental railway to Western Australia."

Five honorable members having risen in their places -

Question proposed.

Mr FOWLER - I have been extremely reluctant to take this step, but it is forced on me by the attitude of the Government, and particularly by the manner in which the question I asked yesterday was answered by the Prime Minister. I do not think that Western Australian members can be blamed for having harassed the Government in connexion with this matter, or with having too frequently brought it before the House. If anything, we have erred in the other direction, and have tolerated the inaction of the Government up to a point when any further hesitation on our part would not be just to our State. There is another reason why the present occasion affords a good opportunity to speak on the matter. We have heard a good deal lately in connexion with another subject; - of the Federal spirit and of honorable obligations. I wish in. the short time at my disposal to show that there is an honorable obligation resting on this Parliament, and particularly on this Government, to do an act of common justice to Western Australia. The answer that the Prime Minister gave to me yesterday in reference to a survey of the proposed transcontinental line was -

The matter is under consideration, and is subject of correspondence now proceeding.

I am afraid that that answer is not one which is entirely creditable to the Prime Minister, who knows perfectly well that the question of a survey has nothing to do with the correspondence now being carried on between himself and the South Australian Government.

Mr Deakin - The honorable member is in error there.

Mr FOWLER - I would point out to the Prime Minister that it is not necessary that he should correspond in connexion with the matter, because a survey can be undertaken without the consent of South Australia. I have the authority of members of the South Australian Government for making that observation. Those members of the State Government have said to me - " Why need there be any trouble about a survey 1 - so far as we are concerned, the

Federal surveyors are at perfect liberty to traverse our territory and make what observations they may think fit, in order that the Parliament of the Federation may be in a position to judge as to whether or not this line should be constructed."

Mr HENRY Willis - The South Australian Government could not keep the surveyors off the territory.

Mr FOWLER - Certainly not. Under the circumstances' the Western Australian representatives at this stage of the session are fully justified in entering a very strong protest against the inaction of the Federal Government. To my mind W7estern Australia has simply been played with, and it is about time the Government were given to understand that their action, or rather their inaction, will be tolerated by the State no longer.

Sir William Lyne - What will Western Australia do 1

Mr FOWLER - If the Minister for Trade and Customs waits a little while he will find out. I feel particularly annoyed with the Government, several members of which - particularly the Prime Minister, by his utterances and indirect promises - are largely responsible for Western Australia having entered the Federation without insisting on a compact in regard to the construction of a transcontinental railway. At the Federal Convention of 1897 we find the present Prime Minister actually suggesting to the Western Australian delegates, who were then indifferent about Federation, the construction of a railway from the eastern States to the western State. On the question of giving the Federal Parliament power to construct such a railway the present Prime Minister spoke at the Melbourne Convention on the 25th January, 1898, as follows : -

A trunk line from the eastern colonies to the extreme west, which would mean a treat saving of time in the transit of the mails to and from Europe and increased expendition in our trade communication with the old world, might justifiably be constructed by the Federal authority.

We find not only the present Prime Minister but several supporters of the present Government, who were members of the Convention, holding out the inducement of a transcontinental railway to Western Australia. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo, for instance, in the Melbourne Convention on the 25th of January--

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - At whose expense were the promises held out ?

Mr FOWLER - The matter of expense can be considered later on; but I would point out to the honorable member that when the Government have felt themselves justified in placing ,£25,000 on the Estimates in order to provide a structure of stone and lime in front of Buckingham Palace, they might well feel justified in asking Parliament to vote half that sum for the survey of such a railway as that which lam advocating. We find the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, in the Convention, protesting against any attempt to cut down or fritter away the Federal power to construct national or transcontinental railways. Opposing an amendment submitted by the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Solomon, the honorable and learned member for Bendigo pointed out that if the amendment were carried the Federal Parliament would not be able to construct a transcontinental railway connecting the eastern railway system with that of Western Australia. Mr. R. E. O'Connor, speaking at the same sitting of the Melbourne Convention, used the following language with regard to the federation of the railways : -

If you make that condition you simply make a condition which is impossible. The principle on which we give this power at all is that it may be necessary for the Federal Government to take action in regard to the very large and important work of transcontinental railway construction ; and for two reasons : In the first place, it is difficult to obtain the amount of funds necessary in any one State to carry on the work ; in the second place, the work must be carried out as a whole, and can only be done by the Federal authority. It should also be done in some uniform way.

The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, who was also a member of the Convention, when speaking of an InterState Commission which should control the railway rates throughout Australia, said that in all probability a line to Western Australia would be effected, implying, therefore, that the railway would soon be undertaken .and constructed. In view of such general approval of this scheme, I fail to see why there should be any hesitation on the part of the Government in connexion with this matter.


Mr FOWLER - We have heard a great deal here about some kinds of expense which could very well be avoided. Once again, the present Prime Minister, when on his way back from London, where he had attended as Victorian delegate in connexion with the Commonwealth Constitution Bill, was interviewed at Albany by Western Australian federationists on the 13th July, 1900, only a few weeks before the referendum was taken ; and he then said -

I have always advocated the construction of a line from Perth to Adelaide.

He has not advocated it very much since I have had the honour to sit in this Parliament. Perhaps it may interest honorable members to learn that the leader of the Opposition has spoken in no uncertain language concerning the construction of this line. During the sittings of the Federal Convention, he repeatedly referred to it as a possibility, and in speaking at Kalgoorlie, upon the 27th January last, he used the following emphatic words-

Mr Higgins - He spoke more strongly still in the Perth Town Hall.

Mr FOWLER - The utterance which I shall quote will be perfectly satisfactory to all those who favour the construction of this line. The right honorable gentleman said -

There was one little bit of equity that the Federal Government had got to do to the State of Western Australia, and that was to build a railway to connect it with the other States. From the first moment the Federal compact was signed he had always publicly stated that although there was no written agreement about it, it was always regarded as a tacit understanding, upon the strength of which Western Australia had consented to join the Federation.

We have been told that there is some difficulty in carrying out the undertaking on account of the attitude which has been assumed by the Government of South Australia. In this connexion I am very pleased to know that you, Mr. Speaker, took a very prominent part in inducing Western Australia to join the Federation upon the understanding that this railway would be constructed. I can only regret that you are not now upon the floor of the House to lend your powerful support to a measure of which you so emphatically approved on various occasions. I am also proud to recollect that the attitude of the right honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Kingston, upon this question is as definite as is that of the right honorable and learned member for East Sydney. His words and messages to Western Australia upon the eve of Federation, and his promise to assist us in obtaining the construction of this line at the earliest possible moment, contributed very largely towards securing the magnificent majority which was obtained in favour of the Union.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Can the honorable member quote his utterances ?

Mr FOWLER - Yes, but it is not necessary to quote them. His word is as good as his bond, and I am quite sure that we shall have his support in all matters connected with this particular project. I wish, next, to quote an extract from a letter which was written to Mr. Walter James, who is now the Premier of Western Australia, by Sir Josiah Symon. It is dated the 27th June, 1900, and was published in the Western Australian newspapers. It reads -

Federation must inevitably give to Western Australia at a very early date the transcontinental railway line, upon which your and OU hearts are set. That will be one outward and visible link to join Western Australia with the rest of the federating colonies. In my belief, the acceptance of the Commonwealth Bill by Western Australia will mean the speedy inauguration of that work.

Lastly, I wish to quote from the manifesto of an honorable member of this House, whom we all highly respect, and whose unflinching regard for honour and political consistency justifies us in accepting him as one of the strong advocates of this railway scheme. I refer to the honorable member for South Australia, Sir Langdon Bonython, who, in his manifesto to the electors at the Federal election, made the following one of the planks of his platform : -

A railway fi-om Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, federally constructed or guaranteed, is necessary, as an act of justice to Western Australia, which, having agreed to throw in its lot with the Commonwealth, should not remain in a position of isolation.

I think I have shown that -the Western Australian representatives had sufficient ground for expecting that the Prime Minister would have set aside a sum of money to defray the cost of a survey of this line. It cannot be denied that our State entered the Federation upon the understanding that this railway would be taken in hand at a very early date. Yet, though the first Commonwealth Parliament is now about to close, not a single step has been taken by the Government in the direction in which we were so frequently promised that action would be taken. We have heard much of the reasons which induced the other States to join the Federation. We have been told that the possession of the Federal Capital was the determining factor in the case of New South Wales. On the other hand,

Queensland has received from this Parliament freedom from that black curse which was threatening her. Victoria has had the markets of the whole of Australia opened to her, and, in that respect alone, Western Australia has proved a regular mine of wealth to Victorian industries. Tasmania has also had the markets of Australia thrown open to her produce. South Australia, is offered a magnificent country to exploit, if she only cares to take advantage of it, as no doubt she will ere long. I refer to the territory which lies between the West Australian gold-fields and the occupied portion of her own territory. There is an immense area of auriferous country there of which advantage can be taken by South Australia, and, if a survey were made of this railway, I believe that such justification would be found for its construction as would enable any Government to take the work in hand. But what has Western Australia gained from Federation? It would be very difficult to discover that she has derived any advantage whatever. Of course we have frequently been reminded that she enjoys the benefit of a special tariff. But I would point out that the sliding scale of duties which was agreed upon was not embodied in the Constitution for the special benefit of Western Australia. Indeed, if a referendum had been taken upon that arrangement it would have been emphatically repudiated by a large majority. Western Australia, I repeat, has proved a perfect godsend to these Eastern States. Even now, some £20,000 per month is being forwarded by workers in Western Australia for distribution amongst families in Victoria and elsewhere.

Mr Kingston - And it is well earned.

Mr FOWLER - It is undoubtedly. We have rescued several Victorian industries from insolvency. We have enriched Victorian ship-owners, and provided profitable occupation to the men employed by those who, a short time ago, were trying to do us another act of injustice. Western Australia has a good claim upon the Federation and the Government, but especially upon the Prime Minister, whose eloquence so largely contributed to that State placing itself unreservedly in the hands of the other States. As an ardent Federationist I am disappointed that the hopes which we entertained regarding the manifestation of a Federal spirit in this respect have not been justified. I believe that it is not the fault of this Parliament. I am confident that if the Government proposed that a sum of money should be voted to enable a survey of this line ' to be made, the vote would be carried by a large majority. There is therefore absolutely no excuse for an attitude of indifference upon the matter. I trust that before we disperse we shall have an intimation from the Prime Minister that the Government will perform this just act to Western Australia. If we have not, I venture to say that it will be so much the worse for the general policy of the Government in the future history of the Federation.

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