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Wednesday, 21 October 1903

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - Observers must have noticed that the chief disqualification or defect of the representatives of Western Australia in this Chamber is excessive modesty - a disinclination to intercept the great work of the national Parliament by reiterated advocacy of purely local interests. That is a defect from which - possibly for the benefit of Australia - very few representatives of the other States suffer. The Queensland representatives, for instance, have managed to secure for the sugar-planters of that State a contribution from the rest of Australia, as an inducement to employ white labour. I have no objection to that. At the same time I desire to point out that all the advantages accruing from Federation should not be confined to one State. Although Western Australia did not have the forethought to provide in the bond that the transcontinental railway should be constructed, it would nevertheless be a pure breach of faith with that State if the Commonwealth refused to build the line.

Mr Fowler - Her delegates never suggested that the work should be provided for in the bond.

Mr MAHON - No. The absence from the Constitution of any provision regarding the construction of that railway is to some extent accounted for by the fact that Western Australia was never truly represented at the Convention. There were probably two or three delegates from that State who would have been returned by the vote of the people ; but the electors had no opportunity to say who should represent them at that Convention. This fact explains the presence in the Constitution of something which need not have been placed there, and the absence from it of something which should have been inserted.

Mr Kingston - Does the honorable member know why the delegates from Western Australia were not elected by a direct vote 1

Mr MAHON - Certainly ; that is a matter of history. The State Parliament did not give the people of Western Australia the opportunity to elect representatives. But what about the right honorable member and others who sat in the Convention with these improperly elected delegates ? In Western Australia the people were powerless to protest. Why did not the right honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Kingston - who is claimed to be the idol of the democracy of Australia - rise in his place in the Convention, and protest against those delegates being permitted to settle the destinies of the Commonwealth 1 Since he must have known that these delegates were improperly elected to the Convention, he is certainly more blameworthy than are the people whose hands were tied behind their backs, and who could do nothing to right their grievances. It has been clearly proved by the honorable member for Perth that the people of Western Australia voted for federation on the distinct undertaking given by the present Prime Minister, and nearly all the other Federal leaders, that this railway would be constructed. It was because of those promises that the people of Western Australia were induced to join the Union. Why is reference made in the Governor-General's speech, at the opening of each session of Parliament, to the necessity for the construction of this railway, unless the

Government are prepared to take the matter in hand 1 I indorse every word that has been said by the Minister for Home Affairs as to the futility of a survey unless the Government intend to proceed with the construction of the line. The Prime Minister will possibly say that South Australia has not given the requisite permission to the Commonwealth to enter upon her territory, and I believe in that respect the honorable and learned gentleman has a good defence. The language used by him in the respectful remonstrance which he addressed to the Premier of South Australia, was possibly as strong as an honorable gentleman in his position could have reasonably employed ; but he will admit that the case is a very bad one, and would justify the use in this House, at all events, of much stronger language. The Premier of South Australia repeated a promise given by his predecessors in office, that a Bill similar to that passed by the Western Australian Parliament would be introduced in, and passed by, the South Australian Legislature ; but that promise has not yet been fulfilled. It seems desirable at this stage to remind South Australia that some occasion may arise when it may need the good will of the other States. Between 1904 and 1920 the Government of South Australia will have to redeem about £20,000,000 of loans.

Mr Glynn - The work of redeeming those loans will not commence until the year 1907.

Mr MAHON - It will commence next year.

Mr Glynn - But there is only a comparatively small amount to be redeemed until the year 1907.

Mr MAHON - Between the present year and 1920, they will have to redeem each year loans amounting in the aggregate to about £20,000,000. I have not had time to work out the totals, but the figures are to be found in Coghlan. The leaders of public opinion in the press and Parliament of South Australia may require the co-operation of the other States before the year 1920. Without unduly detaining the House, I may in conclusion point out the significant fact that the opposition in South Australia to the construction of this railway comes from a section of the people who are interested in chipping, and who desire to shut up the ports of Western Australia to the oceangoing mail vessels. Another opportunity will arise to discuss this matter, and as I am probably not in order in referring to it at the present stage, I shall therefore say no more on the point. I hold, however, that the Prime Minister should have made the necessary provision on the Estimates to enable a survey to be made. In view of the repeated references to this project which have been made in speeches delivered by the Governor-General, I can hardly believe that the people of Western Australia will hold Ministers blameless for their inaction in the matter. I hope that if the necessary money cannot be provided during the present session, the Prime Minister will at least give us his assurance that very early next session a substantial sum will be voted to enable this work to be carried out.

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