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Wednesday, 14 September 1904

Mr KENNEDY (Moira) - I regret that in my remarks up to the present I have been drawn away by interjections from the subject immediately under discussion, namely, the desirableness or otherwise of entering into an undertaking of this nature without the consent of the States concerned, as provided in the Constitution. But having been drawn aside, I am compelled to follow a little longer the same line of argument. Considerable stress has been laid on the point that from a military point of view this line is absolutely essential for the safe defence of Australia ; and I propose to take up the time of the Committee in order to briefly refer to the opinion expressed by the ablest military authority we have in the Commonwealth - Major-General Hutton. I have not the pleasure, of a personal acquaintance with the General Officer Commanding, but I may reasonably assume, from the position he occupies - the salary for which is provided by the taxpayers - that he is well qualified for his duties." The report of the General Officer Commanding on this matter was published, owing to the fact that the Minister of Defence saw fit to refer the report of the engineers on the proposed railway to the Defence Department. The first document dealing with the matter is dated 24th March, 1903.

Sir John Forrest - There is a later report than that.

Mr KENNEDY - That interjection reminds me how well it would be if we practised what we preached. The right honorable member for Swan has always held forth to the House the desirability of doing to others as we would be done by, and no later than last evening we had him repeatedly explaining to honorable members who ventured to interject that they would be able to express their opinions in the course of their, own speeches. Since I commenced speaking I have been subjected to continuous correction at the hands of the right honorable member, but my desire is to inform the Committee of what, in my opinion, is our position, and not to be advised entirely by the right honorable gentleman. I have no feeling of resentment against the right honorable member on account of his interjections,, but he reminds me very much of a spoilt child, who is not subject to reproof in any way. I ask the right honorable member for Swan to consider from my point of view the time involved by his drawing me aside, even momentarily, from the main subject under consideration. The first document of March, 1903, is from the Secretary of the Department over which the right honorable gentleman presided, and is' as follows: -

I have the honour to forward herewith copy of Report of the Conference of Engineers-in-Chief upon the subject of the proposed Transcontinental Railway and to ask that same may be considered by the Defence Department and report furnished, in view of the possible strategical importance of this railway in connexion with the defence of Australia.

The reply to that was -

In reply to your minute of 30th March last requesting that I would submit for your consideration a minute upon the Report of trie Conference of Engineers-in-Chief upon the proposed Transcontinental Railway, I beg to observe as follows : -

1.   The contemplated extension of railway communication between Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and Port Augusta in South Australia is, from a strategical and military point of view, of unquestionable value. The isolation of Western Australia without direct land communication with the other live States of Australia will, in time of war, cause a general feeling of insecurity. Under the existing circumstances, Western Australia, for purposes of co-operative military assistance f r"om the other States, is as far distant from direct means of reinforcement as New Zealand is from the Eastern States of Australia.

2.   In order, however, to correctly view the present construction of the railway in question as an important factor in the defence of the Commonwealth, it will be well to consider the special importance of Western Australia in the eyes of foreign powers, and the description of attack to which Australia is subject, and to meet which intercommunication between the States by land must be regarded as of paramount value.

The potential wealth of the gold-fields, and the vast extent of valuable and unoccupied land in the territories of Western Australia, render the acquisition of that portion of the Australian Continent a most valuable prize to foreign nations. The strategical situation, moreover, of Western Australia, dominating, as it does, the southern side of the Indian Ocean, and the converging trade routes from the West, must be considered as of the greatest importance to British and Australian interests.

As long as the supremacy of the sea is in the hands of the Royal Navy no serious attack on Australia upon a large scale may be considered as practicable. In this regard little attention need be paid to the temporary and .local effect of a raid by one or two of an enemy's ships upon one or other of the undefended ports. It would, however, be the height of folly to disregard the possibility of the supremacy of the sea being temporarily or permanently lost.

I submit that the construction of a line of railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie would not materially influence the condition of the British Navy. Consequently the carrying out of this project would not sensibly affect the military or naval defence of Australia.

Mr Fowler - It would mean a great deal in the defence of Australia.

Mr KENNEDY - I will deal with that aspect of the question presently. The report continues -

It is impossible to foresee the result of naval warfare in the future, or to anticipate the effect of fleets acting on the part of a combination of great Powers hostile to British Imperial interests. In the event, therefore, of the supremacy of the sea being either temporarily or permanently lost by either of the foregoing possible contingencies, an attack on a large scale might be attempted with every reasonable chance of success either on the shores of Western Australia or on some other part of the immense coast line of the Australian Continent. It may be assumed that no Power or combination of Powers would undertake an attack of such magnitude without employing from 20,000 to 50,000 well equipped, well trained, and well organized troops, according to the extent of the contemplated operations.

It may be safely assumed that a hostile, invasion of the description indicated, and with a view to permanent territorial occupation, would never be attempted in Western Australia with a less force than 20,000 men, and that a force at least equal in numbers and equal in equipment would be required in defence.

It may be as well to state at once that a force of the requisite strength organized and capable of taking the .field does not at present exist in Australia, and that there are at present no local means of equipping such a force.

Sir John Forrest - At present.

Mr KENNEDY - Yes. The right honorable member reminds me of the spoilt child again. He desires to see a railway constructed' for the purpose of conveying troops which have no existence. Moreover, according to the best authority, we have no local means of equipping such a force.

Sir John Forrest - We are getting the equipment.

Mr KENNEDY - I admit that. We are also growing older. The report proceeds -

The organization is wanting ; the departments necessary for a mobile army have yet to be created ; and there are neither sufficient guns, arms, equipment, nor ammunition available. It will therefore be seen that the construction of the railway as contemplated would, under existing circumstance, confer no advantage to Australia in its present condition of military disorganization and unpreparedness.

I ask those who argue that the construction of the Transcontinental Railway is absolutely necessary for the defence of Australia, to put forward something in refutation of that statement.

Sir John Forrest - Another report was issued ten months later than that from which the honorable member is quoting - a report which he has evidently not read.

Mr KENNEDY - I have read it, and if the right honorable member for Swan will act upon the advice which he so constantly tenders to the Committee, by saying what he thinks during the course of his speech, he will be better employed than in attempting to put his ideas into my mouth. The report further states -

The most- that could be expected from the military situation at present existing would be the concentration of a certain number of armed men, who, without adequate organization, administrative departments, or the required equipment, would be quite incapable of coping with even an inferior number of an invader's troops, carefully trained, organized, and equipped with the latest modern appliances, as they unquestionably would bc. _

It' will, therefore, be seen from the foregoing that, important as it would be for defence purposes to possess Inter-State communication as proposed, the establishment of railway communication would in itself be of small value without a military force being in existence which could be utilized by its means with any reasonable hope of success.

It has been stated that a wonderful transformation has been effected in the military establishments of Australia since March, 1903. I would ask those who entertain that view to supply the Committee with authentic information as to the exact increase which has taken place in the strength of the Military Forces since that period, and as to their equipment to-day as compared with that which existed twelve months ago. I do not propose to occupy any further time-

Mr Carpenter - Go on.

Mr Fowler - Criticism will not damage this proposal.

Mr KENNEDY - I wish to be fair. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to discuss the merits of the proposed railway. We have only very meagre information in regard to it.

Mr Fowler - Does that not indicate the necessity which exists for a survey being made?

Mr KENNEDY - It may. But I have attempted to show that the obligation for completing this survey rests upon those States which will be benefited by the railway if constructed.

Mr Carpenter - The honorable member should not forget his water scheme.

Mr KENNEDY - It is that sort of interjection which is responsible for the coining of the phrase " log-rolling." Surely the honorable member will not be a party to anything of that character. Let us deal with each proposal submitted upon its merits. The interjection of the honorable member suggests that in the future I may be interested in some irrigation scheme, and that therefore I should not criticise this proposal too harshly. It implies that if I do not wink at it I shall incur the wrath of those who are directly interested in the project.

Mr Carpenter - I did not imply any such thing.

Mr KENNEDY - In the course of his speech the honorable member will have an opportunity of saying what he did imply.

Mr Carpenter - The honorable member is distinctly unfair, notwithstanding that a few minutes ago he declared that he wished to be fair.

Mr KENNEDY - I have no desire to be unfair,- but it is not pleasant to be blocked in the middle of a sentence.

Mr Carpenter - The honorable member makes insinuations.

Mr KENNEDY - I do not. I shall be only too delighted if the honorable member is in a position to refute my statements. Last night I referred to the astuteness of those gentlemen with whom previous Prime Ministers had to deal. I pointed out that the present Prime Minister occupies a unique position, in that, both in season and out of season, he has advocated the construction of this railway. If I understand their utterances aright, a number of members of the present Cabinet were not always wedded to this undertaking, or to the expenditure of any money. The correspondence which I have read proves that previous Prime Ministers did not entertain any idea of proceeding with this work until the assent of the States concerned had been obtained. Up to the present, the assent of the South Australian Government has not been secured. That Government has refuse'd to consent to the construction of this line, even if the closest investigation proves that the estimate of the probable cost will not be exceeded, and the survey does not disclose any unforeseen difficulties. I have already referred to a statement made in the Legislature of Western Australia, which is embodied in a pamphlet issued, I believe, under the auspices of the ex-Premier of Western Australia, Mr. James. Under the head of " Remonstrances in the Western Australian Parliament," we find at page 10 of this pamphlet, the statement that -

The matter came before the Legislature of Western Australia on October 63 on a motion in the Assembly for adjournment proposed by a gold-fields member, the leader of the Labour Party, when all the gold-fields members took the opportunity to indignantly repudiate what was characterized as " the misinterpretation of the gold-fields sentiments by the Premier of South Australia," and strongly condemned the latter's utterances. Other members spoke in the same strain; and Mr. James read the recent correspondence between himself and Mr. Jenkins on the whole matter of the proposed railway. He announced that he had just received a letter from the latter, dated September 29th, in which it was stated that there was "no likelihood whatever " of South Australia " at any time " passing a Bill for the construction of the Union Railway, " except upon strict conditions as to both route and gauge."

It is most extraordinary that no intimation of this sort has ever been made in any of the correspondence which has passed between the Premier of South Australia and the respective Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth. In correspondence with the Premier of Western Australia, the Premier of South Australia has refused point blank to assent to the construction of the line, except with reservations as to both route and gauge.

Mr Fowler - That is merely the attitude of the present Premier of South Australia. We have had others who held a different view of the matter, and shall probably have such men again in office.

Mr KENNEDY - That fe so, but I think that particular attention should be paid at the present time to the facts which I have put before the Committee. The present Premier of South Australia, whilst officially expressing the opinion that the Parliament of that State is not bound by promises made by his predecessors in office, would, nevertheless, attempt to bind the Prime Minister of the .Commonwealth in that way. He reminded the late Prime Minister, the honorable member for Bland, when a final appeal 'was made to him, that the Commonwealth Government was practically bound to the expenditure involved in making this survey by a promise which had been made by a previous Prime Minister, but Mr. Jenkins would repudiate all obligations with respect to promises or pledges given by his predecessors in office. When we have to deal with such a gentleman we cannot be too careful in regard to our position. It is clearly and distinctly stated in the pamphlet: to which I have referred that it is only subject to the reservations named that there is any possibility of the South Australian Parliament assenting to the construction of this line by the Commonwealth. What does that imply so far as the questions of route and of gauge are concerned? We know that the lengths already constructed are not laid down on the gauge that we are likely to adopt as the standard for Australia.

Mr Fowler - The Premier of Western Australia has expresed the willingness of his Government to construct a 4ft. 8 1/2 in gauge line up to the fields.

Mr KENNEDY - The Enabling Bill passed by the Western Australian Parliament .shows that, if it shows anything at all. Between Kalgoorlie and the Western Australian coast there are over 300 miles of railway that will have to be widened.

Mr Fowler - The State Government will lay down a new line.

Mr KENNEDY - But what about the cost of making a similar alteration of the line between Adelaide and Port Augusta? Is one of the causes of the objection of South Australia to this proposal to be found in that consideration?

Mr Glynn - There are two breaks there.

Mr KENNEDY - I have no personal knowledge of the facts, but I gather from the reports that it would be possible to avoid altering the gauge of the complete length of line by making a deviation at Terowie. From a perusal of the reports, I believe that the question of the alteration of the gauge is a material factor in the attitude taken up by South Australia. That alteration will have to be carried out at the cost of the State, unless the Commonwealth is to control the whole length of the line.- In dealing with the gauges of the line from the fields to the sea-coast of Western Australia, and that from Port Augusta back to Adelaide, the pamphlet sets forth that- -

It should be borne in mind that the above estimates of cost by Mr. O'Connor, as well as those following by the Commonwealth engineers, do not provide for widening the gauge between Fremantle and Kalgoorlie, a work that will be necessary should the 4ft 8£in. standard be adopted for the trunk line to South Australia. By the Enabling Act passed by the Western Australian Legislature last session, which measure is further summarized in a further section of this pamphlet, the State is pledged to carry out this work of converting the existing line, if necessary, concurrently with the construction of the new line by the Commonwealth Government. In any case, seeing that the adoption of the 4ft. 8 1/2 in. gauge as the standard for all Australia is, in all likelihood, inevitable, the State will, before long, find it necessary to undertake the conversion of its trunk lines to that width.

The extent to which South Australia would go in making the necessary changes is a matter for that State to decide. One of the conditions which South Australia seeks to impose before agreeing to the Union Railway project is in .regard to the gauge. To avoid a break at Port Augusta, the South Australian Government aims at stipulating that the line throughout should be on the 3ft. 6in. gauge.

That is the difficulty, and it is for this reason that I insist that we should have, without any reservation whatever, the assent of the South Australian Parliament to the carrying out of this work before we spend even a shilling on a preliminary survey. The cost of. the survey will be practically part and parcel of the cost of constructing the line. The report continues -

But this width would not allow of a high enough rate of train speed ; besides, it is generally agreed by all engineering authorities that to adopt the narrow gauge for a trunk line of this important character would be a great initial error that would in the near future have to be retrieved at enormous cost. This prospect is the more evident in the face of the almost positive certainty that the 4ft. 8£in. gauge will be adopted as the standard for the Commonwealth, liven if the narrower width were to be decided upon for the new connecting line, there would still remain the awkward break at Terowie, the junction with the broad gauge (5ft. 3m.) portion of the South Australian railway system. The distance from Terowie to Adelaide on this gauge is 139! miles.

I wish to refer briefly to a statement which I made earlier in my address with regard to the opinions expressed in the Western Australian Parliament as to the construction of a line which would obviate for a considerable time the necessity for the construction of a railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, that is, the construction of a line from Kalgoorlie to Esperance. What I referred to was a statement made by a member of the Western Australian Parliament when the Bill empowering the Commonwealth to construct the proposed Transcontinental railway was under consideration there. That the fact is mentioned in this pamphlet is evidence that I was speaking according to the book -

In the course of the discussion, the Minister for Lands, himself a gold-fields member, remarked that, though it was true that the people of Kalgoorlie desired the Esperance line, they would not, in a choice between that project and the Union Railway, sacrifice the interests of the Commonwealth for the sake of the purely local convenience to be derived from the former line.

It is the general taxpayer of the Commonwealth who will have to nurse the baby if the Union line is made, and the obligation, therefore, rests upon us to see, before we sanction it, that the Commonwealth will benefit by its construction. We must be certain that we are justified in borrowing money for the purpose - a proceeding against winch this Parliament has hitherto set its face - before we sanction the construction of the line. Further evidence goes to strengthen the opinion which I have already expressed as to the improbability of the tract of country which the proposed line would traverse being developed to any extent. According to the report of Mr. O'Connor -

Up to the present the test boring operations carried on by the Western Australian Government for some time past have not resulted in tapping any sources of fresh water at moderate depths. But these operations have resulted in indications that reservoirs of the requisite freedom from any undesirable ingredient will probably be reached at greater depths, and this hope is strengthened by the knowledge that such supplies are found in country of similar formation elsewhere.

Mr Fowler - Those anticipations have since been realized.

Mr KENNEDY - If that statement can be substantiated .by quotations, from reliable authorities, I shall be delighted to hear that I am in the wrong ; but I have read official reports of later dates, and I have not found anything which contradicts the opinion which' I have just read. I have already said that close to the coast there is not even pastoral settlement.

Mr Fowler - The country near the coast is worse than that further inland.

Mr KENNEDY - The proposed railway would be only fifty or sixty miles from the coast, and, according to the most eminent meteorologists in South Australia and Western Australia, the country which it would cross has an annual rainfall of only five inches.

Mr Fowler - Fifteen inches.

Mr KENNEDY - On the coast, the rainfall may be from twelve to fifteen inches, but what are the conditions which prevail between Port Augusta and the border, or between Tarcoola and the border ? The people of South Australia know enough about that country to know better than to try to develop it.

Mr Poynton - They appear not to know as much about it as the honorable member does.

Mr KENNEDY - Although a previous Premier of South Australia gave a certain promise in regard to this railway, the State is now opposed to its construction.

Mr Poynton - That is because of the influence of the vested interests at Port Adelaide.

Mr KENNEDY - That may or may not be so ; but the forecast made many years ago with regard to the possibilities of that portion of South Australia lying beyond what is known as Goyder's line is being confirmed every day - that permanent settlement beyond that line is practically impossible.

Mr Poynton - I do not think that it is an agricultural country.

Mr KENNEDY - I would like to know how much stock it can carry. Notwithstanding the advances of settlement in both South Australia and Western Australia, can any honorable member say that stock is being carried on the immense tract of country which stretches from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie? The public men of Western Australia have stated openly that it would be impossible for a rabbit to cross from South Australia to the fertile fringe of Western Australia.

Mr Fowler - The rabbits have, nevertheless, come across.

Mr KENNEDY - They have come round the coast.

Mr Frazer - The statement which the honorable member repeats was made by the Age and a few Victorian legislators.

Mr KENNEDY - The Age is not interested in making a statement of that kind, except for the advantage of the public; but at any rate I am not responsible for statements which appear in that newspaper.

Mr Frazer - The honorable member's opinion seems to agree with them.

Mr KENNEDY - I am responsible for my own utterances only. I find that quite enough, without taking responsibility for the statements of a newspaper. I have shown that Victorians . have gone to the north-western parts of Western Australia, to the interior of Queensland, and to the western parts of New South Wales, to get land, and is it likely that they would have left untouched the country through which the proposed railway would pass, and which is so much nearer at hand, if it were worth anything ?

Mr Fowler - There are millions of acres of splendid country in Western Australia still awaiting development.

Mr KENNEDY - That is so, and I have no doubt that Victorians will take up that land before the people of Western Australia. My position is that we are not justified in spending money on the proposed survey until we have obtained the consent of both the States concerned, and that has not yet -been granted. Furthermore, I think that the survey should be undertaken jointly by the Governments of those States. The amount at issue is not a very large one.

Mr Poynton - It comes to about ijd. per head of the population.

Mr KENNEDY - For that reason I think that the States concerned should undertake the work, and not ask the Commonwealth to do so. The amount of money involved is not a matter for serious consideration, but the underlying principle is of the utmost importance.

Mr Cameron - An attempt is being made to introduce the thin edge of the wedge.

Mr KENNEDY - Just so. I think that Western Australia and South Australia may fairly be asked to come into line, and agree to have the survey made at their own expense - the question of repayment by the Commonwealth may be considered at a later stage- and when the whole of the information necessary has been obtained, we . might be called upon to consider the question of the construction of the line. At present, however, I do not think it is desirable that we should spend one shilling in connexion with the project. We have evidence that the South Australian Government have refused point blank to assent to the Commonwealth constructing the line, except under certain conditions which it is thought necessary to impose to protect the interests of that State. I do not think that we should be justified in spending any money under such conditions. It is not in any antagonistic spirit that I object to the proposal now before us. I regret that I was drawn into a discussion on the merits of the line, because I admit that we have not the information necessary to enable us to speak of them except in general terms. There are many undertakings, such as the irrigation schemes referred to by the honorable member for Fremantle, which could be undertaken by the Commonwealth ; but honorable members must recognise that this Parliament can do nothing in that direction without first obtaining the consent of the States concerned. We should first have to consult the New South Wales, South Australian, and Victorian Governments. That is why I say that in order to be consistent, to preserve our self-respect, and to avoid encroaching upon the rights of the States, we should, in all fairness, ask Western Australia and South Australia to proceed with the survey, and to place themselves in a position to make a definite proposal the merits of which could be fully considered.

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