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Wednesday, 14 September 1904

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - I intend to imitate as far as I can the excellent example set by the Minister of Trade and Customs, who dealt with this question in a very brief way. There are many reasons for taking that line of action. There is the consideration that this debate has arisen, as few debates have done, in this or any other Parliament, on a motion in connexion with the introduction of a Bill; and I quite agree with the right honorable member for Swan that this is a most extraordinary proceeding. Western Australia, as the Minister of Trade and Customs has admitted, receives absolutely no benefit from Federation ; and yet, on the very first occasion on which the representatives of that State ask for what may be considered a right, the request is met by an innovation in the procedure, and a reluctance even to give leave for the discussion of a Bill to make a small appropriation. As this debate will have to be gone over again on the various stages of the Bill, if leave be given to introduce the measure, it seems to me that we are now following a very purposeless procedure. In one respect I have great pleasure in congratulating the Minister of Trade and Customs, who certainly gave me the impression some time ago that he was opposed to this railway, and even I think to a survey. It is very satisfactory indeed to witness such a rapid conversion. I would not suggest for a moment that the fact that he now occupies a seat upon the Treasury benches is in any way responsible for this remarkable change of front. I can only attribute it to the fact that some additional information has reached the honorable gentleman. I think that he is quite consistent in the matter, and I congratulate him upon desiring more information in reference to the project, before we finally decide to construct the railway. I feel sure that when the final survey has been made, the honorable gentleman will be agreeably disappointed to find that the information thus obtained will justify him in voting for the construction of the line. Before dealing with that aspect of the. matter, however, I wish to refer briefly to the remarks of the honorable member for Moira. He appears to blame Western Australia, as he blames South Australia, for neglect in bringing this matter to a practical issue. All I can say is that nothing has been left undone by the Government and the people of Western Australia to advance this project. They have met the Government of South Australia upon every possible occasion, and in every possible way. But a most extraordinary thing has happened. Two Premiers of South Australia pledged themselves to endeavour to induce' the Parliament of that State to give legislative sanction to the construction of this line. Subsequently a third Premier came into office, who absolutely repudiated those pledges. I think that nothing more could have been done by Western Australia than has been done. To explain the action of South Australia in this matter, I should like to quote the report of an interview with a .gentleman who at the time dominated the politics of that State, although he was not its Premier. Mr. John Darling, upon 3rd March, 1903, whilst on his way to London, was interviewed in Perth in reference to this project. He said-

We,, in South Australia, are extremely anxious for the development of our northern country, and for that reason I would not be prepared to recommend the Western Australian line until the line from Oodnadatta to Port Darwin is accomplished. I may tell you candidly that as far as I am concerned at the present time, if a Bill to give the consent of South Australia to your line were introduced into Parliament I would oppose it. We want our own Transcontinental line, and the Kalgoorlie-Port Augusta .line would very prejudicially affect our chances of getting it.

Then the interviewer asked him this question -

What better prospects does the Port Darwin line offer?

To that inquiry Mr. Darling replied -

We have very fine country in the north to develop, and we have the possibilities of a great gold-field at the Macdonnell ranges, about 1,200 miles from Adelaide.

The interviewer then put this further question to him -

Is it a better field than Kalgoorlie?

Mr. Darling'sanswer is significant. He replied

Perhaps not; but it is in South Australia, you see.

That is the secret of the opposition to this railway. That interview explains why the Premier of South Australia repudiated a promise which was given by two of his predecessors - a promise which is upon record in the papers that have been laid upon the table of this House. Many people in the eastern States appear to be ignorant of the great resources of Western Australia. I regret to say that it appears to be what theologians call " invincible ignorance " in some respects, for the newspapers will not give the people an opportunity of learning the true facts of the case. 1 have in a small pamphlet here some particulars of the developments which have recently taken place in Western Australia, which I wish could be conveyed to the electors of the Commonwealth. I quite agree with the right honorable member for Swan that if we could get to the people of Australia and place our case fairly before them we should gain their enthusiastic approval of the construction of this line. Unfortunately, for some reason or other - perhaps because New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria, particularly the last named, have sunk a large amount of loan money unprofitably in railways - this great national work which is essential to connect the scattered portions of the continent is decried. When this little pamphlet was prepared by the Premier of Western Australia some two years ago, its population numbered 220,000, of whom an exceptionally large proportion were adult males. Its territory embraces an area of upwards of 640,000,000 acres, and comprises almost one-third of the area of the Continent. Its revenue amounts to upwards of £[3,600,000 per annum, although no income or land tax has yet been imposed. Its Savings Bank shows a sum of £[1.908,898 to the credit of depositors, while the ordinary banks have local assets of nearly £[6,500,000 sterling. These figures have since been added to considerably, because the population has materially increased. It's imports amount to upwards of £[7,000,000 per annum, and its exports to-upwards of £[9,000,000 per annum. It has eighteen declared gold-fields, for which full administrative facilities are provided. These gold-fields have produced more than £[40,500,000 worth of gold, weighing upwards of 330 tons (avoirdupois), the output for 1902 being worth £[7,947,663 ; whilst for the last four years the output has exceeded £[6,000,000 per annum. The Minister of Trade and Customs has said that Western Australia is not a great producing State.

Mr McLean - But it is a great consuming State.

Mr MAHON - That fact is to the advantage of Victoria and the other States. T think that the Minister unintentionally conveyed a wrong impression. Not only is Western Australia a great producing

State from a mineral point of view-

Mr McLean - I merely desired to show that our trade relations with Western Australia were all to our advantage, because that State consumes what the other States produce.

Mr MAHON - The Minister's remarks, nevertheless, might convey a wrong impression. Western Australia possesses upwards of 400,000 cattle, and 2,750,000 sheep, and has more than 250,000 acres under cultivation. Its pastoral leases comprise upwards of I 00,000,000 acres-

Mr McLean - Western Australia is not exporting to the other States.

Mr MAHON - Certainly not. I merely wish to correct the statement of the Minister, which might, perhaps, convey a false impression to the public. I feel sure that he did not intend to reflect upon Western Australia.

Mr McLean - I said that we were under an obligation to that State.

Mr MAHON - Quite so; but as I happened to have the figures before me, I thought it apropos to submit t'hem to the House. Western Australia annually produces almost 1,000,000 bushels of wheat, or an evenly distributed average of 10 bushels to the acre; over £80,000 worth of coal; ,£110,000- worth of copper; £50,000 worth of tin; and over ,£73,000. worth of sandalwood. She exported, in 1902, £[7,500,000 worth of gold bullion and specie ; ,£500,000 worth of timber ; £500,000 worth of wool; and over £111,000 worth of hides and skins. In addition to that, she had an output of £178,000 worth of pearls and pearl-shell, and about £[200,000 worth' of other products. It is also worthy of mention that provision is made for a sinking fund in connexion with every loan floated by the State, and that out of its loan indebtedness of £[15,000,000, no less than ,£13,500,000 represents expenditure on reproductive works. In other words, the whole of that sum is yielding interest. I have no desire to weary the Committee by any lengthy address, because I feel sure that the spirit, of fair-mindedness which prevails in this House will cause honorable members to recognise the desirableness of leave being granted to introduce this Bill, and that, if necessary, we shall be able at a later stage to present all the facts required to enable honorable members to arrive at a decision. I was rather amused, 'however, by the speech made last night by the honorable and learned member for Parkes, who proposed that Western Australia should be called upon to pay the cost of the survey, subject to the condition that if the railway were constructed, and proved a sound investment, the State mighapproach the Commonwealth, and induce it to recoup it in respect of this indebtedness. That is a suggestion which might have emanated very well from a pawnbroker, or from some person having but a limited political vision ; but coming as it did from one who professes to have the widest political outlook, it certainly occasioned me some surprise.

Mr Robinson - His outlook is so wide that he cannot cover its whole extent.

Mr MAHON - That is so. Another remark which was made by the honorable and learned member for Indi also caused me some astonishment. The right honorable member for Swan very pertinently inquired whether the opponents of this proposal objected to it on. the ground of the expenditure which the construction of the railway would involve, and went "on to ask', "If that be so, are they prepared to give a private company the right to build the line, and to control it for a prolonged period?" The honorable and learned member for Indi subsequently objected to anything being done in that direction, urging that, although the Commonwealth might not be prepared to build the line, we should very naturally object to hand over the undertaking to a syndicate. But the right honorable member for Swan expressed the opinion that if a syndicate were prepared to undertake the construction of the line, believing that it would be a profitable undertaking, the Government of the Commonwealth ought not to hesitate to build it. I am sure that will be the opinion expressed by the people of Australia. If the undertaking be good enough for a syndicate, it ought surely to be good enough for the nation. The honorable member for Moira indulged in a variation of the proposition made by the honorable member for Parkes, that South Australia and1 Western Australia should be asked to share the cost of the survey ; but from the quotations I have made, from the opinions expressed by a leading South Australian politician, it will be seen that it is simply absurd for any one to tell us, that we should first obtain the assent of South Australia to this project. , As I have al ready explained, that State has a rival line in contemplation ; and while this scheme holds the field she will never look with a kindly eye upon the proposal to construct the line which Western Australia desires. I am free to admit that it would be very foolish for South Australia to attempt the construction of the great Northern Railway. What population would it serve at Port Darwin? There we have a population of some 300 or 400 Europeans, whilst the remaining residents consist chiefly of Chinese. On the other hand, a railway extending to Coolgardie and the eastern gold-fields of Western Australia would serve a white population of at least 50,000, all earning good wages, and spending their money freely. If Kalgoorlie were on the route of the projected northern line, South Australia would be very anxious indeed to connect it with the railway systems of the States. I agree further with the right honorable member for Swan that the principal advantages derived from the construction of the transcontinental line would be reaped, not by Perth or Fremantle, but to a very material extent by South Australia. I am absolutely convinced that a large number of the residents of the eastern gold-fields of Western Australia would avail themselves of this railway to travel direct to Adelaide when they wished to visit the eastern States, in preference to journeying vid Perth and Fremantle, as they do at the present time. In these circumstances the construction of this line would not be in the interests of the coastal towns of Western Australia. Nor can it be said that there is anything inconsistent in this proposal with the projected construction of the railway mentioned by the honorable member for Moira, running from Kalgoorlie to Esperance Bay. It is absolutely idle for any honorable member to speak about obtaining the assent of the South Australian Government to this proposal. The Commonwealth Government has already done all that is possible in- that direction. The late Prime Minister certainly did all that he could to obtain the assent of South Australia. He pressed the Premier of South Australia for a reply to an inquiry whether the Parliament of that State would consent to pass a Bill, allowing the line to pass through South Australian territory. In a final answer to a message, asking the plain question whether he would carry out the promise made by his predecessors to introduce a Bill giving legal authority for the construction of the line, the Premier of South Australia telegraphed as follows : -

I have nothing to add to mine of 12th inst., further than to state that survey and reliable estimates' are always prepared before we ask Parliament by Act to sanction the construction of any line of railway.

The present Government, following the action of its predecessors, has now asked the House to agree to pass a sum necessary to allow the making of a survey which is the preliminary regarded by South Australia as essentia] to the giving of her consent to the -construction of the line. That being so,I think that the representatives of Western Australia have a fair claim to consideration. I would urge the Parliament to consider very seriously the position of the western State. The Minister of Trade and Customs has truly said that Western Australia has received no benefit, and is not likely to receive any advantage from Federation. . He might well have gone further, and have said that Western Australia has made very considerable sacrifices for Federation. In these circumstances I think it is incumbent upon the people of the other States to consider the position of the western community. It cannot be denied that the isolation of Western Australia constitutes a serious menace to the permanency of the Federal Union. We know very well that in the corporeal sphere the disuse of a member is followed by its atrophy.

Mr Ewing - And then by death.

Mr MAHON - Exactly. I am afraid that unless you make your Union felt in the extreme western State of the Commonwealth, unless you give the people there some tangible advantages as a reward for the many sacrifices which they have made, a strong feeling of antagonism against the Federation will grow up in that community.

Sir John Forrest - There is no doubt about it.

Mr MAHON - I would ask the members of this Parliament to consider what it was that lost England her North American Colonies, and estranged Ireland from the Empire for. centuries? Was it not that the legislators of Great Britain attempted to rule in defiance of the wishes of the people of the North American Colonies and against the wishes of the people of Ireland? And are we, in this twentieth century, to repeat the disastrous mistakes which have clouded the history of Great Britain ? I am not one to talk secession, or the dismemberment of the Union; but if the people of Western Australia are goaded into action, I should not be surprised if within the next four or five years a very strong agitation arose against the Union in that State. Of course it would be our duty to deprecate anything of the kind ; but if the people of Western Australia were to say, " We no longer wish to remain federated," how could we prevent them from collecting their own Custom's duties, and managing their own affairs, as they did prior to Federation.

Mr Glynn - The southern States of America were very soon prevented from doing that.

Sir John Forrest - Yes, by the use of swords and bullets.

Mr MAHON - If honorable members are so niggardly as to grudge a small outlay for the construction of a railway which would cement the Union, can they contemplate with equanimity the possibility of a much larger outlay later on to keep it intact ? That is a consideration which should not be lost sight of by responsible men. I do not say that any prominent person is likely: to advocate secession ; but at this stage of our history we should not allow anything to happen which would give the people of Western Australia, or of any other State, reasonable grounds for resentment or antagonism to Federation. We have hitherto endeavoured, so far as we could, to legislate for other parts of the Commonwealth in accordance with the wishes of' the persons concerned. We have made great sacrifices to maintain the policy of a White Australia. The people of Western Australia have never grumbled at having to put their hands into their pockets to pay the sugar bounties, nor have they grumbled because the State of Victoria has received the major portion of the benefits which have been obtained from Federation. Neither are they likely to grumble if, in the future, New South Wales, which has large coalfields, becomes the home of manufactures, whose competition may drive similar manufactures out of Western Australia.

Sir John Forrest - Some of the Western Australian manufacturers have already left that State and come to Victoria.

Mr MAHON - I hope that Parliament will consider the aspect of the matter which I have put before it. I do not wish to be accused of talking dismemberment or disunion ; but we should endeavour to see a little ahead, and not give to any part of our community reasonable grounds for feeling that it has been tricked into joining the Federation, and that it is now being unjustly treated.

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