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Wednesday, 21 October 1903

Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan) (Minister for Home Affairs) . - If certain honorable members who are inquiring why I have not done anything to further this movement had lent me their assistance, it might, perhaps, have been in a better position to-day. I am very glad that this matter has been brought forward, because I feel that the facts relating to it should be clearly placed before the House. I do not think, however, that any considerable degree of blame can be placed at the door of the Government. It must be remembered that this is the first Parliament of the Commonwealth, and that we have been called upon to transact an enormous amount of work. Even the machinery measures absolutely necessary for carrying on the work of the Government have been placed on the statute-book only with considerable difficulty, and it must therefore be recognised that it has been practically very difficult to find time for the lengthy discussion of a great project such as this is. I know that from the first the Government have been sympathetic in regard to this matter ; but they have been placed in a position of much difficulty. Victoria and some of the other States suffered much by the prolonged drought which has only recently been dispelled, and the finances of the several States have been in such a condition that it has not been an easy matter to cause their representatives to become enthusiastic in regard to any suggestions for the expenditure of a large sum of money. I do not consider that we should incur expenditure merely for the sake of making people believe that we are going to do something in this direction unless we really intend to do so. I am not in favour of making surveys for any proposed railway unless the project is entered upon in a bond fide way, and unless those who are prepared to support the necessary expenditure are ready to follow up their action in this respect by supporting the construction of the line. I am sufficiently familiar with the proposed route to know that there are no engineering difficulculties in the way of the construction of the line. It presents, perhaps, fewer obstacles to the construction of a railway than does any other part of Australia, and when the line is made I should not be surprised to find it running in a straight line for several hundreds of miles, over country so level that earth-works will be of the simplest character. That being so, I have advocated the making of the necessary survey on the understanding that the line will be constructed.

Mr Wilks - The right honorable member wishes to see a fair go.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Quite so. It cannot be said that the Government has done nothing towards expediting' the construction of the railway. Notwithstanding the adverse conditions with which we have had to contend, we have not neglected this question. The Western Australian Government have examined thenside of the proposed route, while the South Australian Government have done likewise. Furthermore, this Government appointed a commission whose members visited South Australia and Western Australia, and examined parts of the route. Their report has been published, so that honorable members and the public generally have now a considerable amount of information in regard to the proposal, and are in a good position to consider it. It must not be forgotten, however, that it is only recently that authority was given for the construction of the Western Australian portion of the line.

Mr Fowler - But there is no obstacle in the way of making a survey.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Probably that is so, but the Commonwealth has really no legal right to enter upon the Crown lands of any State in order to survey a route for a railway: We might be considered trespassers upon the Crown lands of South Australia if we endeavoured, without the permission of the Government of that State, to survey a route for a railway through it. That is not the position in which we should be placed. If the Government of South Australia are in earnest in this matter, they should authorize the Commonwealth in writing to enter upon their Crown lands and make a survey of the route. But they have not done so. The Government of Western Australia, as I have just pointed out, have only recently passed an Act giving authority to the Commonwealth to construct the line, although they have had the matter before them for over two years. However, I shall not say anything against them on that account, because of late, at any rate, they have shown great interest in the matter, and have done all they could to further the project.

Mr Wilks - What about the railway to Esperance 1

Sir JOHN FORREST - I could easily deal with that proposal, and, I hope, give it its quietus, so far as this Government is concerned, before I conclude my speech. The survey of the proposed line from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie would cost about £20,000.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Would that be the cost of a flying survey ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - That is the estimated cost of a permanent survey. The work would cost about £20 a mile. The South Australian Government, however, have not yet introduced a Bill to authorize the construction of the line, and the correspondence between that Government and the Government of the Commonwealth which has been laid upon the table this afternoon will not be pleasant reading for either the right honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Kingston, or you, Mr. Speaker. I should not like as a private individual to receive a letter such as that which has been addressed to the Premier of South Australia, and I am certain that the people of that State will not be too pleased when they read it. I wish now to give the House a little information in regard to the natural resources and wealth of Western Australia, because unless it can be shown that it is a country to which it is worth while to make a railway it will be better to have nothing to do with the proposal.- Unless the construction of the proposed railway would be advantageous to the whole Commonwealth as well as to the State of Western Australia it should not be undertaken. I do not wish any honorable member to vote for a measure authorizing such a work if he believes that its construction would impose an undue burden upon the people of the Commonwealth for the sole advantage of Western Australia. But in my opinion the undertaking is a national one, and will prove remunerative and of great advantage to every State in the Union. I have not the slightest hesitation in urging that the undertaking be carried out. I believe that in the future, when the railway has been constructed, people will marvel that there was ever any hesitation about making it. If any one of the States had an auriferous district like that surrounding Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie within 1,100 miles of a railway terminus, would its people hesitate for a moment about the advisability of extending the line to it 1 From the district I speak of 250 tons of gold have been taken, and probably quite £6,000,000 worth of gold is won every year from the district within a radius of thirty miles of Kalgoorlie.

Mr Kirwan - The yield of gold for the whole State is £9,000,000 a year.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But what about the expense of building the line ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - The undertaking will be remunerative. Besides the goldfields, the railway will be the high way for mails and passengers to and fro to Perth and Fremantle as well as Europe. Surely the honorable member would not hesitate about spending money on a work which will make the country prosperous ! If this were a matter in which any one of the States was individually interested, there would be no hesitation about the construction of the line. Honorable members who represent the eastern States, however, regard the proposal as unimportant, merely because Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie are so remote, and they are unacquainted with the wealth and resources of the State of Western Australia. They should, however, endeavour to inform themselves on the subject. There is not a member in the House who, if he went to Western Australia, would not come back a convert to the proposed scheme. As has been pointed out by the honorable member for Perth, Western Australia deserves well of the eastern States. When I was Premier of Western Australia nearly £1,000,000 was remitted one year to the eastern States by men who were earning good wages in Western Australia, and were sending money back for the support of their wives and families here. Last year the people of the State purchased in the eastern States goods to the value of £2,288,536.

Mr Wilks - The greater part of that money was spent in Victoria.

Sir JOHN FORREST - About £750,000 was spent in South Australia.

Mr Kingston - We found the mines for you.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I am quite sure that the right honorable and learned gentleman is only awaiting his opportunity to make a speech in favour of the railway. He is one of those who most strongly urged me to join the Federation. He said that he hoped that the day was close at hand when the representatives of South Australia and Western Australia would be found standing side by side in the Federation advocating the claims of a railway to the West. I am quite sure that he will not now go back upon his word.

Mr Kingston - I do not think that I was ever found to do that.

Sir JOHN FORREST - No ; as I was pointing out, the people of Western Australia purchased from the Eastern States goods to the value of £2,28S,536, whereas we sold to the Eastern States goods to only the value of £743,411. I do not know what these exports consisted of, but I presume that they were mostly gold. The balance of trade, therefore, was £1,545,125 in favour of the Eastern States. "We have heard a good deal about the value of New Zealand to Australia, and no doubt it is a great country. It is not, however, as valuable to Australia so far as trade and commerce is concerned as is Western Australia. New Zealand purchased from Australia last year goods to the value of £1,390,539, whereas the imports from New Zealand into Australia were valued at £2,475,685.

Therefore the balance of trade as between us and New Zealand was over £1,000,000 on the wrong side, whereas the balance between the Eastern States and Western Australia was over £1,500,000 on the right side. The value of our commercial intercourse with Canada has been referred to upon more than one occasion, and we have shown our readiness to contribute about £50,000 per annum for the purpose of maintaining a mail service with that country.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The amount we contribute is on lv £14,000.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I thought that the amount had been increased.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Only from £10,000 to £14,000.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The total contribution from New Zealand and Australia is much more than that, and would probably represent £30,000. Last year Canada purchased from us goods to the value of only £33,336, whereas she sold us produce to the value of £318,73S. Therefore Western Australia is by far a better customer of the Eastern States than is either New Zealand or Canada.

Mr Wilks - Which of the States does the most trade with Western Australia ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - I believe that Victoria does. Although Victoria is 500 miles further distant than South Australia she seems to do the greater part of the business. In 1902 no less than 47,622 persons travelled between Western Australia and the Eastern States.

An Honorable Member. - That is why the ship-owners do not want the railway.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The ship-owners have made fortunes out of the Western Australian trade. I could tell honorable members of one nourishing company which was not in very prosperous circumstances before the Western Australian trade was opened up. The number of persons who travelled between Australia and New Zealand last year was 34,753, and between Canada and Australia only 1,622. It will, therefore, be apparent to honorable members that the passenger trade between the Eastern States and Western Australia is very large and important. I feel sure that if a railway were constructed fully twenty persons would travel for every one who now proceeds by sea. There would still be plenty for the shipowners to do. They would have a trade representing at the present time a value of £3,000,000 per annum to carry on. Surely that should be worth something to them, and, therefore, they should not oppose the construction of the railway. If they do, I shall have something to say about them.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - I am not aware that the ship-owners as a body do oppose the railway. There is a great deal of assumption about the statements which have been made regarding the ship-owners.

Sir JOHN FORREST - They are not very much in favour of the railway.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - I am opposed to the construction of the railway until I am satisfied that it will pay.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The ship-owners do not support the railway, because it would not suit them to have it constructed.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - They are not so selfish as are some people in Western Australia.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I think that we are all more or less selfish ; but I deny that the people of Western Australia have shown themselves unduly so. If there has been any delay, it cannot be laid to any great extent at the door of the Commonwealth Government. We have had a great deal to do, and we have not had time to transact all of even the pressing business. The States immediately concerned have not done all that they might have accomplished. A Bill authorizing the construction of the railway should have been passed in South Australia and in Western Australia, two or three years ago. If I had been in office in Western Australia a Bill would have been passed early in 1901. I am very much obliged to the present Government of Western Australia for recently having pressed this matter on. Mr. James, the Premier, has done all he could in that direction. Whether or not the railway be constructed by the Commonwealth Government, it will have to come. It is necessary in the interests of Federation. We shall never make Federation a reality to the people of Western Australia unless we enable them to see and to feel its effects. There is no use in expecting them to remain loyal to Federation unless they are able to see evidences of its advantages.


Sir JOHN FORREST - No, it is not. I am a good federalist; but I am stating facts. We cannot expect the people of Western Australia to remain under their present disabilities for very long. They may be patient and long-suffering ; but they cannot rest content under present conditions. The people belonging to the Federation must be bound together with hoops of steel, and so far as the people of Western Australia are concerned the construction of this railway is essential. I feel sure that if Western Australia had not entered the Federation, the Commonwealth Parliament would not hesitate to offer that State the railway if its construction were made a condition of its joining the Federation. It is scarcely necessary to point out that Western Australia, with its immense trade and its magnificent prospects, must have been included in the Federation in order to render the Union complete. The fact that that State joined the Federation, for good or ill, in its earliest days is no reason why it should be treated less favourably than if it had stood out. I have no fear of the result of constructing the railway. I belong to that class of people who are not afraid to assume responsibilities. I do not believe in a do-nothing policy. I believe that under Federation we can rearrange the finances of Australia in such a way as to enable us to construct this railway, and carry out many other great projects for the benefit of the Commonwealth, and that after we have done so we shall be richer than we were before Federation, and richer than we could ever have hoped to be as six separate States. The rearrangement of our loans alone will, as time goes on, save more money to the people of Australia than this transcontinental railway and many other great works are likely to cost. I hope that we shall not adopt an exclusive, or a parsimonious and fearful policy ; let us have pluck and have faith in our country.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - Let us have inquiry.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member has been inquiring all his life, and no one knows better than he of the great wealth of Western Australia ; indeed, I myself pointed out to him fortunes there.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - Not in connexion with the transcontinental railway.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member knows very well that the transcontinental railway will pay. In some quarters the country through which the proposed railway will travel is spoken of as a desert ; and a press penny-a-liner has spoken of the project as a "desert railway."

As a matter of fact, there is not a bit of desert the whole of the way ; on the contrary, there are 500 miles of grassy country which, but for the absence of surface water, would be occupied by sheep or cattle. It is certain that in time to come those lands will be grazed by stock.

Mr Skene - Can water be obtained by sinking 1

Sir JOHN FORREST - Water is obtained at a depth of about 1,000 feet. If honorable members listen to people who know nothing whatever about the country, they will, no doubt, arrive at the conclusion that there is nothing in the project, and that we had better go on as in the past, leaving the West isolated from the East.

Mr Kingston - Does the water rise at all?

Sir JOHN FORREST - So far as the experiments have gone, they show that the water comes up very near to the surface. I hope no one will consider that I am an adventurer, who desires to spend money in directions from which no return may be hoped. I should be the most foolish man in this House if I advocated any such disastrous policy. Where would my reputation soon be? I have used that argument a good many times before, and I have never had reason to regret the carrying out of the projects with which I have been associated. If a public man advocates measures which do not pay in the course of a few years, Nemesis overtakes him ; and I would not, even to secure the good will of the people of Western Australia, advocate a measure which would result in disaster and make my name a by-word. Unless a project had a good chance of success, it would be foolish and disastrous on my part to recommend it to the people of Australia. Only this morning I read that a project which I initiated, and which it was prophesied would ruin Western Australia, has proved a success at the very start. The Coolgardie water scheme was carried out at a cost of £2,500,000, and we are now told that, even before the reticulation is completed, and in the winter time, it is returning a revenue of £11 2,000 per annum. When the summer comes it Ls said that this return will be doubled, so that the scheme may in its very early days be regarded as a paying concern. I am now advocating no desert railway which would bring discredit on me and the Parliament of this country ; and I speak with a full sense of my responsibility.

I have again to thank the honorable member for Perth for bringing up the subject. But that honorable member must not blame the Government, who have a right to expect to be put into a legal position by the Parliaments of Western Australia and South Australia. It is unreasonable to ask the Government to spend a large sum of money before the statutory authority to do the work has been obtained. There might be some reason for the course which some honorable members are urging, if the country through which the railway will travel were a difficult country. As a matter of fact, it is a country so easy as to scarcely need survey much ahead of construction. The railway would not only connect the mines of Western Australia with the other States, but would bind together two sides of a great continent. It will be impossible to prevent the carrying out of this project - the line must be constructed either now or in the near future. Western Australia has already turned out £45,000,000 worth of gold, and is turning out £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 worth yearly ; and I do not wonder at people deserting Victoria for that State. What I want to see is a transcontinental railway providing for the freest communication between east and west, so that all the States may be benefited, and Federation be made a reality, which it can never be so long as the Eastern and Western sides -of Australia are separated by 1,000 miles of unoccupied country.

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