Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 14 September 1904

Mr SKENE (GRAMPIANS, VICTORIA) - Something a little more definite than a flying survey.

Mr McLean - A trial survey.

I had for a very long time past made up my mind to support a trial survey, in order that we might have some information to guide us in our consideration of the merits of the project.

Mr Cameron - Has the Minister any idea what the survey will cost?

Mr McLEAN - The amount allocated for the work is , £20,000, and I may tell my honorable friends that I am not the person to advocate the reckless expenditure of £20,000, or of even half that sum. I have, however, to ask myself whether the request now made by Western Australia is a reasonable one. In the first place, we have to consider the position of that State, which is so situated that it does not derive any benefit, that I can discover, from the Federation.

Mr Cameron - How much does Tasmania derive from it?

Mr McLEAN - I hope my honorable friend will not interrupt me, as I am making only a very short statement in reply to the honorable member for Moira. The trade carried on between Western Australia and the other States is very large, and is almost entirely in favour of the eastern' States. Western Australia is not a producing State, but is a very good customer of the other States, for whom she provides one of our best markets. She does not enter into competition with the producers or manufacturers of the eastern States. The right honorable member for Swan last night pointed out that the trade of Western Australia is at the present time £17,000,000 per annum, and we know that that trade, and also the population, is rapidly increasing. Therefore, honorable members will see that an expenditure of £20,000 is a mere fraction, in comparison with the benefits that the eastern States get- from their trade relations with

Western Australia every year ; and it would be churlish on our part if we were to refuse so small a request as is involved in a survey to set the question definitely at rest. My opinion, as I have stated, is that the results of the survey will not prove favorable to the construction of the line; but I may be doing an injustice to Western Australia in entertaining that opinion, and it is right that the question should be settled on its merits. I do not think that the amount involved is an unreasonably large concession to make to a State from which we derive such large advantages in connexion with trade. In addition, I may say that the last three Governments have pledged themselves to this work, and it would require very strong, reasons to justify us in ignoring the pledges given. I admit at once that the Government have no power to bind Parliament ; but, at the same time, we ought to consider that Western Australia consists of our own kith and kin, and is the only portion of the Commonwealth which derives, so far as I can discover, no visible benefit from the Federal union. In view of the fact that we derive the large advantages to which I have referred, we should give some consideration to the request for a survey of this line. At any . rate, we should think twice before repudiating the promise or promises made by former Governments. This is my position in a nutshell. I do not intend to be a party, unless the results of the survey justify it, to committing the Commonwealth to the- expenditure involved in the construction of the line ; that is a serious matter, to be dealt with on its merits. But the construction of the line is not the question before us. What we have to consider is whether we should' or should not accede to the request of the people of Western Australia, and ascertain for ourselves at a very moderate cost all the facts connected with the proposed railway. I have for a long time thought that the information now desired should be obtained. I would be one of the last members in the House to now commit the Commonwealth to the larger and further expenditure involved in the construction of the line. Of course, if the results of the survey afford any justification, I shall be very pleased indeed to learn that I have been wrong ; but I am strongly of the opinion, from the meagre information at my disposal, that the line would not pay. When we obtain the information disclosed by the survey, and when we have the whole of the facts before us, we can consider the further question of the construction, and we shall also then have to consider the terms in regard to the proportion of the loss to be borne by the States which derive most benefit from the work. The honorable member who last spoke knows that the South Australian Government, consented to the survey through their territory ; and I do not agree with him that we should refuse to get the necessary information in the meantime because that Government attach a condition to their consent. If it be found that the financial prospects do not justify the construction of the line, it will not be necessary to proceed further. The people of Western Australia are reasonable, and will be satisfied with the results disclosed; I understand that their only desire is to have the matter dealt with on its merits.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What does the honorable member call "justification"?

Mr McLEAN - If the returns from the line would substantially pay the interest on cost of construction.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then the Minister would borrow money at once to construct the line?

Mr McLEAN - When the honorable member says "at once," that is a very different matter.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It bears on this question.

Mr McLEAN - No. In the first place this survey will 'take a considerable time. We know that at the present time the money markets of the world are not in a favorable condition for borrowing for a large work. To borrow under present condition's would be to load this line for all time to come with an unfairly large interest charge. I am perfectly sure that the Western Australian members would be the first to sav that, if the results of the survey do justify the construction of the line, we ought to wait for more favorable conditions for borrowing before entering into the obligation. But those are matters which will be. dealt with at the proper time. In the meantime we have only to consider whether we shall accede to the wishes of the people of Western Australia to the extent of expending £20,000, in order to ascertain the financial prospects of the undertaking, and to guide us in determining whether we are justified in proceeding further. I believe I am as strongly impressed with the necessity for economy as is any member of the House, but, careful as I should be before committing the Commonwealth to the con- struction of the line, I hold that the request now made is reasonable and moderate. It is due to our friends in Western Australia that we should accede to their desire to the extent they now ask.

Suggest corrections