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Wednesday, 14 September 1904

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) - I have a perfectly open mind upon this question. Itis" not one which has engaged the attention of -my constituency to any extent, and I do not remember to have heard it referred to there; but personally I have given a great deal of consideration to it, and I view the proposal for the construction of this railway with a great deal of misgiving and distrust. Of course we are now being asked, not to sanction the construe-' tion of the line, but to vote a sum of money, for a survey to obtain information in regard to its prospects. The information contained in the reports now before honorable members is certainly very meagre. Those reports give very little: justification for the construction of the line, though they are admittedly based on the results of only a partial investigation of the country which it will traverse.

Mr Kelly - Does- not the honorable member think that tHe States concerned should pay the cost of any survey that is made?

Mr JOHNSON - If seems to me a reasonable contention that unless it can be shown that the necessities of the Commonwealth, from commercial, defence, or other national points of view, demand such a railway, the States which will benefit most by the construction of the line should bear the cost of its survey.

Mr FOWLER (PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Will not the construction of the line be of benefit to the whole Commonwealth ?

Mr JOHNSON - That is a question I cannot at present answer, and is one upon which I desire information myself. The chief question for us to consider is whether the proposal is being put forward as a national one, and has in view the serving of great national interests, or whether it is being made in the interests of land gamblers and speculators. That is ' a point, upon which I wish to be satisfied before committing myself in regard to the matter. I should like to know whether at the present time the land -through which the railway would pass is in the possession of the State, or whether it has been alienated, and has passed into the hands of private individuals.

Mr Fowler - It is almost all Crown land.

Mr JOHNSON - Then I should like to know what steps are being taken to conserve the public interest by securing for the State . whatever increment in value may be created by the construction of the railway, and the aggregation of population in its vicinity. I have seen so much land speculation, and so much expenditure of public' money by States Parliaments in constructing' unprofitable lines merely to put money into the- pockets of private individuals, that- I intend to watch very carefully all proposals' for railway construction by the Commonwealth Parliament, and tb try to as far as possible conserve to the . public any incre- ment of value which may attach to the public estate by such expenditure.

Mr Kelly - In this instance the land through which the railway will pass belongs to two States, which will get the increment of which the honorable member speaks. It will not go to the Commonwealth.

Mr JOHNSON - Not necessarily; some arrangement may perhaps be arrived at between the States concerned and the Commonwealth under which a certain proportion of the increment will be transferred to the Commonwealth. At any rate, the railway will be the property of the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Government before committing itself to any scheme of railway construction should conserve national interests in this connexion. The Engineers-in-Chief of the various States who reported on this proposal on 27th July, 1903, are rather favorable to the construction of the line, though their investigations led them to believe that for a number of years the railway would not be a paying one. They say -

New tracts of country would be opened up for pastoral settlement both in South Australian and Western Australian territory, the chief difficulty at present lying not so much in the want of fertility of the country, and the absence of water, as in its inaccessibility.

The same may be said as regards mineral development. Recent discoveries show that the country for 175 miles east of Kalgoorlie, which is auriferous, may turn out to be highly productive and 'a source of revenue to the railway. Tarcoola, and other mining centres in South Australia, if rendered more accessible, may come to enjoy prosperity after they have been more thoroughly and systematically prospected. The reports of the Government Geologist are not unfavorable.

We are of opinion that South Australia will gain by the construction of the railway. Not only will the railway revenue receive an impetus, and, as before indicated, opportunity for pastoral and mining development be afforded, but the State generally must be benefited by the increase of passengers and. other traffic which will come with the railway.

That statement confirms my opinion that South Australia, which is apparently going to benefit largely from the construction of the proposed line, might reasonably have been asked to contribute something towards the cost of its survey. The Commissioners say that to- the question as to " the advis ability of constructing the proposed railway "'- "We find it very difficult to give an answer, in view of the fact that the monetary loss will, for the first few years, be considerable. -The revenue may prove to be higher than we have estimated, and the deficiency may tend to diminish from year to year more rapidly than has been assumed.

Then comes this summary - :

Our answers to the questions put to us are, briefly, as follows : - 1.We estimate the probable expenditure in construction at£4,559,000.

2.   The probable revenue which may be depended upon after construction is, in our opinion, £205,860. If the past progress in Western Australia is maintained so that the present- population becomes doubled in ten years after completion, the revenue may also be taken as double, viz., £411,720.

I do not regard that as an excessive estimate. The Commissioners continue -

The. revenue may also be taken as double, namely,£411,720. The probable annual expenditure in working and maintaining the line immediately after construction we estimate at £114,406, which, added to interest on the cost of construction, at 3½ per cent.,£159,566, gives £273,966 for the total expenditure. After ten years, under the conditions stated, the working expenses may be taken as£210,000, and, in view of the necessary expenditure in improving works in the meantime, the interest on the enlarged capital will be£183,501, making a total of £393,501.

It will be seen that the estimated loss for the first ten years is £68,160 per annum, and after ten years the estimated annual profit is £18,219. In regard to the prospective loss, certain communications passed between the late Prime Minister and the Premier of Western Australia. On the 6th May the Prime Minister telegraphed to the Premier of Western Australia as follows : -

ReWestern Australian Railway. - Representations made to me, feeling of members Federal Parliament towards proposal favours belief that opposition would be materially lessened if your Government indicate" . willingness to contribute stated proportion of loss, if any, during the first ten years. As matter under consideration of Cabinet, early reply desired.

The reply from the Premier of Western Australia was dated 18th May, and read as follows : -

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 that it will be liberal, and satisfy the Federal Parliament of our sincerity in this connexion, and our belief that the work will soon be a directly paying one.

That is satisfactory, so far as it goes, but I think that we shall require a greater guarantee than is therein afforded, before we commit ourselves to the construction of the line - a guarantee on the lines I have already indicated in connexion with the future increment in the value of land adjacent to the railway. There is another aspect of this question, which I admit is deserving of serious consideration, andthat is the bearing that the construction of the railway would have on the defences of the Commonwealth, and the protection of our interests in time of war. In that connexion, the General Officer Commanding the Military Forces, Major-General Hutton, was asked to furnish a report, from which I propose to read some extracts, in order to show the importance of the matter. Major-General Hutton, in his report, which is dated 14th May, 1903, says -

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

1.   The contemplated extension of railway com munication between Kalgoorlie in West 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 five 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 from 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.

These are very strong remarks, and coming from such an authority, are deserving of our most serious consideration. Nevertheless, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that Western Australia and South Australia will derive the greatest benefit from the construction of the railway, and I have always inclined to the opinion that those States should have been called upon to pay a large share of the cost of the proposed survey. But there is still another aspect of. the question to be considered? The Prime Minister has assured us that at the Premiers' Conference, a certain under- standing was arrived at between the representatives of the other States and Western Australia. No agreementwas embodied in the Constitution, and no written bond was entered into, but an assurance was given by the Premiers of the States other than Western Australia, that they would support a proposal for the survey of the proposed line - I do not know that their promise extended to the actual construction of the line. If the Premiers who spoke for the people of the various States entered into a compact, I take it as binding on those States. - They spoke as the representatives of their respective States.. The fact that the compact was only of a verbal character, makes the obligation, if anything, the more binding upon us. It has been argued that other compacts, in which other States were concerned, have not been kept, and I know that a certain pledge was made to the people, of New South Wales in connexion with the Tariff question, which certainly has not been fulfilled. But I do not think that fact would justify the people of New South Wales in setting aside the promise made to the people of Western Australia in regard to the survey of this railway.

Mr Chanter - What was the pledge referred to by the honorable member, in the case of New South Wales?

Mr JOHNSON - I am speaking of the promise made by Sir Edmund Barton tothe effect that a protective Tariff would not be imposed, a tacit understanding to that effect having been arrived at. Although I do not personally approve of the compact made with regard to the survey of the route for the proposed railway, because I do not think it was a wise one, I feel bound, under the circumstances, to respect it. At the same time, I wish it to be understood that I do not regard my action as in any way binding me to vote for the construction ofthe proposed railway.

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