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Tuesday, 13 September 1904

Mr ISAACS (Indi) - I think we can all very heartily congratulate my right honorable friend, who has just resumed his seat, on the genuineness with which he advocates this project. I believe that no honorable member could throw more personal fervour into his advocacy of any proposal than the

Tight honorable member has thrown into this, but I regret, for his sake, that I feel compelled to oppose the motion. I am sorry that my right honorable friend refers to those who, like myself, believe that as trustees of the money of the people whom we represent, we are not justified in looking at an expenditure of, £5,000,000 as a mere nothing

Sir John Forrest - It is not £5,000,000. Our opponents always add a million, but never think of taking one off.

Mr ISAACS - £5,000,000 has constantly been referred to in this House as the probable cost of the railway. But let us take it at £4,000,000 ; a million is nothing to the right honorable member.

Mr McCay - At present we are concerned with a proposal to spend only £20,000.

Mr ISAACS - If there is to be a survey, is it to be made with the genuine intention to proceed with Che work, should it be favorably reported upon?

Mr Fowler - Does the construction of a line always follow the making of a survey? How many surveys of projected lines have been made in Victoria without the work of construction following?

Mr ISAACS - I agree with the honorable member's suggestion that surveys ought not to be made unless it is intended to proceed with the actual work, should the report of the surveyors be favorable.

Mr Fowler - It is not my suggestion.

Mr McCay - The object of the proposed survey is to obtain necessary information.

Mr ISAACS - My 'honorable and learned friend will surely agree that if we secure the necessary information, it should be with the honest intention to proceed with the work provided that the information proves favorable.

Mr McCay - If the information turns out to be favorable.

Mr ISAACS - However roseate the report might be, I hold that we are not in a position to spend £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 in the near future. On that ground alone, I am prepared to object to the proposal. Whatever may be the eventual prospects of this gigantic- work - and it is a gigantic work - however desirable it may be, and I admit it is desirable that at some time or other the iron band of union should exist between east and west - I think that at present we are not at all in a position to spend out of our revenue, or to borrow with advantage on' the credit of the Commonwealth, the huge sum of £4,000,000 or ,£5,000,000 necessary to make this railway. When we look at the Act of Parliament which has been forcibly brought under our notice by the right honorable member for Swan, we find that it is to expire in 1908. We are told, in effect by Western Australia, " If you do not undertake this work by 1908, you are not to do it at all." That is the limit. I, for one, am not prepared to say that Australia is. by some means, to raise £4,000,000 or £5,000,000, and to expend it in making a railway within the period named. What the distant future may bring is another matter; but

I am not prepared to say that even £20,000 is in our present condition a mere trifle. I do not know that any one will dispute the proposition that, in the future, population will require and justify the construction of the line. I am not in a position to offer any opinion on that phase of the question, but I do say, that whatever the future may bring forth, the present is not the time for us to embark on such a great undertaking. If we are not prepared to enter upon it within a reasonable time, then we have no right now to expend £20,090, because by the time we should be able to undertake the enterprise, conditions might have materially altered for the better or the worse - I hope and believe for the better. We are told by the right honorable member for Swan that, after all only a few pounds are involved, and he wishes to know why " these croakers" should object to the expenditure of a few pounds. That is a very light way to talk of a large sum of money. If we were to propose the expenditure of £20,000 on some projects, I am sure that we should be told that it was not a small sum.. It seems to me that to expend £20,000 in the way proposed would be to throw it away. I deny that it was any part of the bargain between Western Australia and the rest of the ' Commonwealth that this railway should be constructed. I never heard of it as a bargain, but I do not deny that it was a laudable desire and ambition on the part of Western Australia - and a desire that I can heartily reciprocate - that the eastern and western States should be united by easier and more facile means of communication than at present exist. The question is whether we can afford at the present time to provide that means of communication, or whether the prospects now. justify it, or will do so within the immediate future. I do not think it is an answer for the right honorable member to say that, if the only objection be the cost, we should allow a private company to do the work. That is a most fallacious argument. If the Commonwealth or any State is going to say that because a project, however inviting it may look in the future, is not one which the financial condition of the Commonwealth or of the State concerned will justify at the present moment, it is therefore to be handed over to a private company as a monopoly, we shall find ourselves at no great distance of time in a very perilous position. If that position were taken up, we should fetter our hands in a way from which we could not hope afterwards to free ourselves. I do not think that that argument is a sound one, however alluring it may be for the moment. I cast my mind back, and recall a time in our history when Brisbane was not connected with Adelaide. We see that they are connected to-day, but it requires time and patience to give effect to these undertakings. We must wait, in my judgment, for some further development of our population and territory before we can justify the expenditure of the very large sum of money we are now asked to expend. I should like to have heard the present Minister of Trade and Customs upon this subject, and should have been pleased if he had followed the right honorable member for Swan. I know that his views, if expressed, would not be found to be in accord with those which have been announced by the right honorable member for Swan. I think it is wrong that the right honorable gentleman should refer in the way he has done to those of us who, in Victoria and in other States, feel that they cannot support this proposal, which, if it mean's anything at all, is only the, thin .end of the wedge for the largest expenditure of money proposed since the Commonwealth came into existence. I take this opportunity of saying that, whatever may be our desire for closer union and quicker communication , with Western Australia, well disposed as we all are to that State as to the other States of the Commonwealth, we feel regret that the circumstances of the Commonwealth to-day do not justify us in supporting the proposal of the Government.

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