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Wednesday, 14 September 1904

Mr FRAZER (Kalgoorlie) - I am gratified at the tone which the debate has taken, and I aim also glad that it is thoroughly understood that all that we are required to do at present is to make out a reasonable case for a survey of the proposed line. Some time ago I was told that a number of honorable members were under the impression that the line was being advocated in the interests of a small gang of persons in Perth and Fremantle. A statement to that effect was made in the Chamber, and I take the first opportunity to say that it is absolutely incorrect. The people of Western Australia are almost unanimously of opinion that a line should be built to connect that State with the eastern railway systems. It is not surprising that this feeling should exist, when we consider the number of persons from the eastern States who have settled in Western Australia, but who still have interests of, a domestic or other char- acter in the places from which they came. I have a return prepared by the manager of the Money Order Office in West- ern Australia, dated nth April, 1904, showing the amount of money forwarded through his Department from 1898 to 1903 inclusive to the other States. During that period £426,721 15s. 6d. was remitted to South Australia.

Mr Fowler - That amount was made up of small sums, forwarded by means of money orders, and was apart altogether from any remittances by cheque or draft.

Mr FRAZER - Quite so. £1,316,353 8s. was remitted to Victoria.

Sir John Forrest - That was an absolute present to Victoria; we received no quid pro quo.

Mr Tudor - I suppose that the men who sent the money had to work for it?

Sir John Forrest - Yes, but they presented it to the people of Victoria.

Mr FRAZER - During the same period £491,511 ns. 5d. was remitted to New South Wales, £68,904 4s. lod. to Queensland, and £96,033 9s. 3d. to Tasmania, the total being £2,399,524 9s. In view of the ties which exist between many of the workers in Western Australia and their families and relatives on the other side of the continent, it is only natural that kindly feelings should be entertained by them towards the Other States, and I can assure honorable, members that they feel greatly disappointed when antagonism is expressed towards the proposed railway. The promise given to Western Australia prior to her joining the Federation imposes a moral obligation upon representatives of at least some of the States to do all they can to assist in bringing about the construction of the proposed line. Some reference has been made to the remarks of two Premiers of South Australia, but unfortunately the position of affairs is not thoroughly understood by honorable members, or by the people of Australia. The right honorable member for Adelaide1, when Premier of South Australia, used expressions which fully justified the people of Western Australia in believing that they would receive the hearty co-operation of South Australia in securing the construction of the railway. The right honorable gentleman, in one of his letters to the right honorable member for Swan, said -

This would, indeed, be an Australian work worthy of undertaking by the Federal authority, on behalf of the nation, in pursuance of the authorities contained in the Commonwealth Bill. It is, of course, a work of special interest to Western Australia and South Australia, and I devoutly hope that the day is not far distant when the representatives of Western Australia and South Australia may, in their places in a Federal Parliament, be found working side by side for the advancement of Australian interests in this and other matters of national concern.

Some doubt having been subsequently expressed as to the1 attitude of South Australia, the right honorable member for Adelaide communicated with the honorable member for Swan as follows : -

Cannot understand reference to probable reluctance of South Australia to permit Federal construction of railway connecting colonies. We have no fear of any such anti-Federal, " doginthemanger " policy-

These communications clearly show that the people of Western Australia were justified in expecting that the great national work which they desired to see carried out would receive strong support in the Commonwealth Parliament. It is not, however, our wish that the commencement of this great work should rest on sympathy, so I desire to present a few facts concerning the great Western State, which do not appear to be universally known in the East. At the present time, Western Australia possesses a population of nearly 250,000, a great proportion of which is comprised of adult males. It cannot be disputed that Western Australia is the greatest mining State in the Union, lt contains eighteen declared goldfields, and during the period that mining has been actively carried on £10,000,000 have been disbursed in dividends. Last year the dividends paid aggregated £1,500,000. During the same period the coal produced was valued at £86,000, the copper at £110,769, and the tin at £52,102. I think it will be generally admitted that a State which is capable of producing such a large quantity of gold is worthy of some consideration. At the present time, Western Australia has about 100,000,000 acres under pastoral lease. Despite the statements which appear in the newspapers of the eastern States, it is a fact that a considerable portion of the country which would be traversed by the proposed railway has-been taken up by pastoralists, who have stocked it. In dealing with the pastoral resources of the western State, and particularly those on the route of the proposed line, it is only reasonable that I should quote from the report of Mr. Muir, who travelled over it upon camels at the instance of the Western Australian Government, and made a flying survey. He states -

I was led to believe, prior to starting this trip, that the country to be traversed consisted almost entirely of a desert -

Had he been resident in Victoria we should probably have said that he had been reading the Age - composed of sandhills and spinnifex flats. This impression proved, however, to be perfectly erroneous, unless a waterless tract of country, though well grassed and timbered, can be called a desert. Interspersed through this forest are numerous flats covered with grass, as well as with salt-bush and other fodder shrubs. The soil is of good quality, and the growth of grass and herbage luxuriant. At about 200 miles, rolling downs of lime-stone formation are met with, covered with a luxuriant growth of grass, and occasionally a salt-bush flat. This country is lightly timbered with myaporum, and presents a beautiful park-like appearance.

Honorable members should bear in mind that Mr. Muir occupies a responsible position, and that his estimates in the past have always proved absolutely authentic. Yet what has been pictured by the newspapers as a desert, he describes as country " presenting a beautiful park-like appearance." His report continues -

Close to the coast a narrow belt of mallee runs, and further inland small belts of myall and myaporum are met with. This country is also well grassed, and salt-bush and other feed bushes are plentiful. To the north, near the 31st parallel of latitude, the country is more open. In fact, from the South Australian border, for 250 miles in a westerly direction, it is one large open plain of limestone formation, fairly well grassed throughout. Taken as a whole, this stretch of country is one of the finest I have seen in Australia, and, with water - which doubtless could be obtained if properly prospected for - it is admirably adapted for grazing purposes, and will, without doubt, be taken up some day from end to end. At the time of our visit this tract of country must have been at its driest, as the settlers at Eyre and Eucla informed us that it was the worst season they had experienced for the. last twenty years. From our observations, it was quite evident that there had been a long dry spell, extending over fully twelve months, I should think. Still the grass was sound and strong, growing for the most part to a height of twelve inches.

When a report of that description is presented by a gentleman, who certainly should bo a reliable authority upon the matter, and whose reputation is at stake, I think that honorable members should attach more weight to it than to the rash statements published by newspapers which desire to cater for the lowest instincts of a few people in other portions of the Commonwealth. I believe that, if the facts were fairly presented to the people of Australia, they would unhesitatingly support this proposal. I would further point out that last year Western Australia possessed 3,000,000 sheep and 400,000 cattle. In addition to that, she produced about 1,000,000 bushels of wheat.

The State has also enormous possibilities for agriculture. There are about 10,000,000 acres open for selection, extending from Geraldton in the north to Esperance and Albany in the south, which contain some of the finest agricultural land to be found in any portion of Australia. I have travelled over a vast extent of that country, and its fertility cannot be questioned. When experienced settlers take up this land, Western Australia will become a very important agricultural State. I do not think that too much weight should be attached to the arguments of the honorable member for Moira on the question of defence. He urged that at the present time the eastern States have not large standing armies, which, in the event of Western Australia being serious! v threatened, could be readily transported across the Continent. But the same remark, I would point out, would apply to any country in regard to any war which has ever taken place. At the opening of hostilities in South Africa, Australia did not possess a large number of troops which she could immediately place in the field. Nevertheless it was soon realized that if troops were required for patriotic purposes, they could very speedily be organized. I think it will be readily conceded that the defence of a country is to be measured by its strength at its weakest point. Personally, I am of opinion that, in the event of hostilities, the first State in Australia to be attacked would be that which possessed large resources in the shape of rich gold mines, which had not many men to defend them, and which possessed no means of obtaining assistance from its eastern neighbours. It will be seen that, under such circumstances, the western State would occupy a very precarious position indeed. Looking at the matter from a common-sense stand-point, I think that, in the interests of the defence of the Commonwealth, facilities should be provided for the transport of troops with the least possible delay. I would further point out that at the present time there is a large passenger traffic between Western Australia and the eastern States - I believe the official estimate sets it down at about 50,000 annually. If it were possible for people in the western State to travel to the east without being called upon to undergo the inconvenience and discomfort attaching to a sea trip, I venture to say that the number of passengers travelling to and fro would be considerably increased. There is always considerable uncertainty as to the hour of sailing, and that in itself constitutes an objection to the present means of communication. We must also remember that many people have a natural objection to travelling by sea. There is another aspect of this proposal which has an important bearing on Western Australia. It is well known that the Commonwealth is visited from time to time by a 'large number of European tourists and others who combine pleasure-seeking with business, and are always anxious to obtain information as to the opportunities for profitable investment which Australia affords. The people of Western Australia believe that if facilities were given to these visitors to leave the mail steamers at Fremantle and to travel thence by rail to all parts of the Commonwealth, they would spend at least a week at the metropolis and a week at the gold-fields before proceeding" overland to the eastern States.

Sir Langdon Bonython - How many oversea passengers leave the mail steamers at Adelaide and continue their journey to Sydney or Melbourne by railway?

Mr FRAZER - I have no figures before me that would enable me to reply to the honorable member's question; but I would remind him that to travellers from other parts of the world Adelaide does not offer as many attractions as does Western Australia. I therefore assume that any return which might be prepared on the subject named could not be taken as a fair indication of the number who, if this line were constructed, would leave the mall steamers at Fremantle and travel overland.

Sir Langdon Bonython - My question was, how many people travelling by mail steamer - apart altogether from Western Australians - land . at Adelaide and go on to Melbourne or Sydney by train ?

Mr FRAZER - I was under no misapprehension as to the question put by the honorable and learned member.

Mr Groom - But the honorable member cannot answer it.

Mr FRAZER - I have no data bearing on the question, but I think I have supplied a sufficient answer to it. I have heard many passengers on mail steamers express their determination to land at the first available opportunity, and I consequently conclude that a large number of travellers by the mail steamers bring their sea voyage to a termination on reaching 'Adelaide. The attitude taken up by Western Australia in regard to this question has been somewhat severely criticized hy two honorable members who have addressed themselves to this question. The honorable and learned member for Parkes last night expressed the opinion that Western Australia should be called upon to pay for the cost of the preliminary survey. He urged that if the Government of that State wished to obtain information relative to the projected line they should be prepared to pay for its collection. But in the event of the Commonwealth constructing the line and working it, would the honorable and learned member be prepared to support a proposal to give Western Australia the larger proportion of the profits that might be obtained from it? That is an aspect of the matter which the honorable and learned member has not seriously considered. I believe that Western Australia is acting in a very generous way, and that there is no desire on the part of the representative men of that State that the' Commonwealth should be called on to bear the whole burden should the line be constructed and prove less successful than we hope it will be. Mr. James, the late Premier of Western Australia, made what I consider was a fair offer to the late Prime Minister. He stated in a telegram dated 18th May last -

On condition that Commonwealth is allowed a free hand as to route and gauge of railway, this State will be prepared, for ten years after line constructed, to bear a share of any loss in excess of our contribution on a population basis. It would be premature to fix exact proportion we are prepared to pay at this stage ; but I am confident it will be liberal, and abundantly satisfy the. Federal Parliament of our sincerity in this connexion, arid our belief that the work will soon be a directly paying one.

The tone of that message does not suggest any desire on the part of the representative public men of Western Australia to place the Commonwealth in a false position. I would point out further, that under the Enabling Act passed by the Western Australian Parliament, the Government of that State are pledged to an enormous undertaking. I refer to the lifting and relaying of the railway from Fremantle to Kalgoorlie, in order that it may correspond with the gauge adopted by the Commonwealth for the great national line. It must also be remembered that the alteration in the gauge of that line would render it different from the other State lines. In view of the undertaking given in the Enabling Act, I think we may safely assume that the Government of Western Australia are quite prepared to undertake their just responsibility in this matter. The attitude adopted by two honorable members who have spoken during this debate is worthy of some attention. The honorable member for Moira asserted that the cost of the survey must be seriously considered, and the same view was expressed by the honorable and learned member for Indi. In glancing over the pages of Hansard this morning, I was unable to discover any evidence that these honorable members had always been so ready to take exception to the proposed expenditure of a few thousand pounds. We urge that the building of this railway is a great national undertaking which should be entered upon by the Commonwealth, in order that the pledge given to Western Australia, prior to Federation, by a number of the leading public men of Australia, who advocated the Union, may be redeemed. But the honorable member for Moira, and the honorable and learned member for Indi object to the preliminary survey simply on the ground of the cost. When various other proposals - involving considerable expenditure - of a far Jess important character, have been submitted to the House they have not taken up that attitude. I find that they joined with other honorable members in voting a sum °f £IO>°°° to enable the Duke and Duchess of York to be lavishly entertained during their visit to Australia in connexion with the opening of the Commonwealth Parliament.

Mr Crouch - When they voted in that way the money had already been spent.

Mr FRAZER - That is immaterial to the point at issue. The money should certainly not have been spent in that way, and the fact that it was so expended did not relieve the Ministry of their responsibility to this House. We find, however, that these two arch-priests of the gospel of economy, while not prepared to support a comparatively small expenditure in connexion with an undertaking designed to cement the Commonwealth, did not hesitate to vote for the expenditure of a sum of £[10,000, most of which was handed over to Victorian society. The greater part of that amount was expended, I suppose, in the purchase of champagne, and on decorations, in order that the Duke and Duchess of York might be lavishly entertained ; but it was of no material benefit to any citizen of the Commonwealth.

Mr Liddell - Tone?

Mr FRAZER - That was it. If those honorable members were prepared to support a vote that was of no lasting or even temporary benefit to the people of the Commonwealth, surely they 7 y should not censure such a proposal as that now before the House, which involves the interests and the welfare of a vast number of people. I believe that the Committee will adopt a course that will enable the fullest investigation to be made and the most complete data to be obtained before we are asked seriously to determine whether the Commonwealth should construct this line. Its construction would be undoubtedly a momentous undertaking involving a very large expenditure, and I think tha' the feeling manifested during this debate shows that there is a desire on the part of honorable members to obtain the information necessary for our guidance. I hope that the division will show that a majority of the House is prepared to take into consideration the whole of the facts which have been presented in justification of the Government proposal, and that the ultimate result will be assent to a proposal, designed to secure the safety and the peace of the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Mr. SKENE(Grampians).- I may say at once that I intend to vote for the motion, but that I shall do so on the distinct understanding that I shall not bind myself in any shape or form to support the construction' of the railway if the survey does not disclose some better possibilities than have; so far, been presented to our view. There is to be no implied contract. We have heard much of implied compacts, but I desire to make my position perfectly clear. I consider that the proposed undertaking will be rather a work of exploration than an actual railway survey. Since this question was first brought before us, a good deal of additional information has been presented, which throws some .light on the character of the country through which the railway would pass. It cannot be denied that the line would run through some excellent grazing country, but the difficulty seems to be to secure an adequate water supply. I assume that the survey! party would be provided with boring appliances, and would do its best to discover any underground supplies that might exist. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie read some extracts from a report by Mr. Muir, which I had pre1viously seen, and which I think bear out the statements made to me by the right honorable member for Swan and others in regard to the grazing capacity of the country through which the projected line would run. The right honorable member for Swan tells us thai in his early explorations he passed through some excellent grazing land along the southern line. I do not know to which of these routes Mr. Muir refers in his report; but I think that he deals with a line designed to go further north than this railway would run. There can be no question, however, that a large area of good grazing country would be traversed, although, as I have already remarked, there is a difficulty in regard to securing a water supply. Mr. Muir deals with difficulties in the way of boring and of tapping any sources of fresh water, but he is very indefinite in regard to the rainfall. He states that the average rainfall is from seven inches upwards per annum - a very low one - but the statement appears to be somewhat inconsistent with the paragraph in which he informs us that the route passes through an area in which there are periodical rains, some of them of a tropical nature.

Mr Poynton - How could he possibly determine the rainfall there?

Mr SKENE - That difficulty occurred to me when I was reading the report, for I know that no one has lived in the part of the country referred to long enough to enable any reliable data as to the rainfall to be obtained. I feel also that a good deal might be said from the point of view that the gold-fields are likely to be permanent, and to carry a large population for manyyears to come.

Mr Fowler - There is no doubt about that.

Mr SKENE - It is also to be remembered that where there is a long haulage, the rates for railway transport are proportionately cheaper than where the distances are short. Some years ago, when Mr. Speight was Commissioner for Railways in Victoria, I found that in this State we were paying as much for the transport of our wheat for a distance of 160 miles as was being paid in New South Wales for haulage for a distance of 300 or 400 miles, and that the case was similar in regard to fat stock. Mr. Speight told me that the reason for the difference was that the New South Wales Commissioners could afford to charge less for 'a long haulage than he could afford' to charge for a short haulage. Then, again, although 'the country through which the proposed line will pass may not afford much traffic to the line, that will not matter much if a full train load is obtained at one end and carried right through to the other end. The honorable member for Wilmot has referred to the likelihood of water competition ; but that competition is not likely to be so severe as it is in the eastern States, where the distances are shorter. At the present time goods intended for the gold-fields have to be placed on steamers in Melbourne, transferred to the train at Fremantle, and then conveyed some 400 miles by rail, whereas if the proposed railway were constructed, only one handling would be necessary, and the total railway journey would be only about 1,000 miles.

Mr Poynton - That argument applies particularly to passenger traffic.

Mr SKENE - I do not think that the passenger traffic alone would be sufficient to justify the construction of the line, though no doubt the passenger fares would materially supplement its earnings.

Sir John Forrest - There would also be the conveyance of mails and of stock.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member think that stock would be carried over the line?

Mr SKENE - Stock are now travelled and conveyed by steamer from Kimberly to the gold-fields, and properties many hundreds of miles distant have become valuable because of the market which has been given by the gold-fields. In America stock are taken by train much longer distances than that under consideration.

Mr Fowler - And they lose less condition in the trucks than they lose on a bad track.

Mr SKENE - No doubt, because they are taken care of, taken out of the trucks to be watered, and are not in the trucks for a very long period at a time. Possibly the construction, of the Esperance line would create competition by water. I have not altered my opinion in regard to' this matter. When speaking on the address-in-reply, I said that I was disposed to vote for a trial survey of the line, and the information which has since been obtained has confirmed me in the view that it would be a wise thing to have the survey made.

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