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Wednesday, 14 September 1904

Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) - I regret very much that this question is being regarded by certain honorable members from a State stand-point. I recognise that a railway, such as that projected; would be a thoroughly national work, and that its con-' struction is a matter of Federal concern. Whilst I am not at present prepared to commit myself to support the construction of the line, I feel perfectly justified in voting for the prooosal to spend £20,000 upon a survey. We mav find, after the report is presented to us, that it would not be advisable for us to construct the railway, but 1 venture to say that no honorable member is at present in a position to say whether or not the railway would pay, or whether it would develop good country, or traverse what has been described as a desert. If we were contemplating the settlement of a large population upon the country adjacent to the proposed railway line, we should look for arable plains and river flats, which would be capable of growing all kinds of produce ; but it must be recognised that, even though the country through which the line would pass may not be capable of growing a bushel of wheat, it may still prove oneof the richest tracts in Australia. I believe that the resources of Australia are capable of much higher development, and I think we should do well to have a survey made so that we may be in a better position to consider the possibilities before us in connexion with the proposed railway. Whilst I admit that at the present time we are not in a position to say whether the proposed railway should be constructed, I claim that, the idea of obtaining a proper survey of the country which the line would traverse is an . excellent one. It might perhaps be wise for the Prime Minister - to suggest to the two States chiefly interested in the undertaking, that they should despatch, under the control of those charged with the duty of making the survey, a number of prospectors who could simultaneously examine the country for some miles upon either side of the route, with a view to discovering any auriferous wealth which may exist there. I intend to vote for the motion, in order that we may gain further information respecting the territory which the proposed line would traverse. It has been urged that this railway should be constructed by the two States which are chiefly interested in the undertaking. To my mind, with the advent of Federation, the construction of transcontinental railways passed to the Commonwealth. I do not care what compact may have been entered into by the Premiers of the States when assembled in Conference. That does not influence me one iota. I do trust that the Committee will not regard this question from a State stand-point, as has been done by a couple of honorable members who have -addressed themselves to it. For example, the honorable -member for Oxley urged.that Queensland had not been tieated by tha Commonwealth in the same liberal way as has Western Australia. SinceI entered . this Parliament I . have endeavoured lo view every question which has engaged our attention from a purely national standpoint, and I venture to say that if we come to examine the matter without bias, we shall unhesitatingly declare that under Federation Queensland has received her due.


Mr WATKINS - The people of that State appealed to this Parliament to insure for them what they were unable to achieve for themselves in their own State Legislature, namely, the maintenance of a white population, and adequate protection to the sugar-growers. I believe that the honorable member for Oxley himself voted for the payment of a bonus upon sugar produced exclusively by white labour. In that respect I think that Queensland has received very substantial benefits at the hands of this Parliament. I do not regard the construction of the proposed Transcontinental Railway as a State project in any sense of the word. If the line is to be built at all, it should . be built for the benefit of the whole of Australia. At the present time we have not sufficient data to enable us to determine whether or not it oughi to be constructed. My own opinion is that any coastal line connecting South Australia with . Western Australia would represent an absolute waste of money. Any railway which will compete with" the existing service by sea would be utterlyuseless. In my judgment a Transcontinental Railway ought to traverse the interior of Australia, and to open up the inland portions of the continent. Believing that, I suggest that there should be attached to any party which may be sent out to survey a route from Tarcoola in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, not only a couple of prospectors, But some such officer as Mr. Brown, the Government Geologist of South Australia, who is a practical man in every sense of the word. If that course be adopted, any expense which may be incurred in undertaking the proposed survey will not be entirely thrown away, even if the report be adverse to the construction of the line, because we shall at least ascertain the class of country which the proposed. railway would traverse. I would further point out that an expenditure of £20,000 when distributed amongst the States, does not represent ' any more than each would be calledupon to pay for the survey of an ordinary line of railway within its own borders. ' We have been told that the. territory which the Transcontinental

Railway would cross has already been prospected. I do not think that it has been prospected any more than Kalgoorlie or Coolgardie had been prospected before the memorable gold rush look place there. It is one thing for an individual to walk over the country and quite another for him to prospect it. For years before Broken Hill was discovered we know that the graziers in that locality were accustomed to use the galena obtained there as ornaments for their mantelpieces. They did not know that it contained silver.

Sir Langdon Bonython - Sturt was water-bound at the Pinnacles for six months.

Mr WATKINS - We have yet to learn . that there is not another Broken Hill in Australia, or that there is not a second Kalgoorlie or Coolgardie. If the proposed survey served no other purpose it would at least offer facilities for the discovery of other rich mineral resources, and in that way the Commonwealth would be amply repaid for the outlay. Considering the importance of this question from a Federal stand-point, and the view which honora'ble members take as to promises made in this regard to Western Australia, I say that no gigantic work of this description should be attempted by the Federal Parliament unless we have the fullest information at our disposal in relation to the project. It is because of this belief that I propose to vote > for the motion, but practically on the condition that the Government will see that a thoroughly organized party is sent out, so that the character of the country may be . properly ascertained. It is not sufficient for , us to know that the land which would be , traversed by the line consists of good agri-. cultural country, or that it is suited to only ' one purpose. Let us know positively whether it does not present other great possibilities, which would support a railway of this description. I feel that if a party ' consisting of surveyors only were sent out, , we should obtain from them a report very ! similar to that presented from time to time ; to States Parliaments for or against the . building of- various railways. It would deal , only with the agricultural prospects of the I country to be served, and other cognate i subjects. Railway surveyors cannot be ex- jpected to have any knowledge of the I mineral possibilities of the country to which : I have referred. Whilst this survey is being ; made, it would be easy for members of the , party to explore the country north and south j of the projected route; In that way they : would be able to furnish us with a general knowledge of the true character of the country through which the line would pass. I do not see that there is much force in the argument that the construction of this line is necessary for defence purposes.

Mr Mahon - It may become very important in that respect.

Mr WATKINS - That is so. It may be said that if we build such a line solely for defence purposes, it should not go so far south as is proposed. It might be more desirable to start from a point further north on the eastern side ; but, in any event, if we spend money on the building of transcontinental railways, we should be careful that they do not run too close to the coastline. It should be our province to see that they penetrate more thoroughly into the interior, so that Australia may be developed in the true sense of the word. It is because I feel that the time has come when this Parliament should do something to develop the resources of Australia, that I am now prepared to support the making of this survey ; but whether I shall vote for the construction of the line will depend on the nature of the report to be furnished by the surveyors.

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