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Friday, 14 October 1904

Mr SPENCE (Darling) - It is noticeable that so far we have not heard to-d'ay anything about a large tract of stony and useless country. It is rather pleasing to find that honorable members on the other side have discovered that there is good land between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am assuming that it is rolling plain.

Mr SPENCE - Previously we heard different opinions expressed. I do not know whether recent developments have had the result of throwing any light on the character of the country lying between these two points, but that would appear to be the case. From the first, I have been favorable to a survey of this line being made. In this case, as in others, we can reasonably . ask the Government to carry out their declared policy of consulting the States concerned. We should have an assurance that the States concerned are prepared to guarantee the reservation of the adjacent lands, for the reasons already given, before a survey is commenced. I do not see how we could" very well make that stipulation in the Bill, because we have no control over the lands in the Commonwealth. We are entering upon an undertaking which is of an exceptional nature. What is proposed is practically to give a bonus to the two States which are most directly interested in the survey and construction of this line. Honorable members may feel that the construction of the line is likely to follow the survey, and, personally. F think it will. I hold the view that probably in a few years we shall have the whole of the railway systems of the

States under the control of the Commonwealth, and, therefore, I am not so much alarmed as are some other honorable members that the Commonwealth should be requested to undertake the construction of this line. I do not suppose we shall rush into the undertaking for some little time. What is proposed is certainly an important departure, in connexion with which we should be assured of the distinct co-operation of the States. The honorable members for New England and Parkes have pointed out what usually takes place .when railways are projected, and there can be no doubt that persons would be found very glad to take up a large area of land along the route of this railway. They would be able to get it at a very cheap rate, and they would naturally regard it is a very good speculation. So far from opposing this measure, T am in favour of it, but I think, with the honorable members to whom I have referred, .that we should have a distinct pledge from Ministers that they will ask the Governments of both the States interested for an assurance that the land for a certain distance on each side of the proposed line will be reserved from alienation. If this were done, we should be in a position to refuse to survey or construct the line later if the States Governments failed to give that assurance. We know (that some persons are always on the watch for an opportunity to acquire land along the route of a projected railway for speculative purposes. No one can find fault with them for that, but it is our duty to see that the public interests are not sacrificed to the private interests of any syndicate. For that reason, I am heartily in accord with the 'suggestion of the honorable member for New England, that, in this instance, steps should be taken to see that the interests of the public are conserved. The construction of this railway will be a very great undertaking, involving many important considerations that are not now before us. The whole question of the management of railways by the Commonwealth, and the setting up of a new Commonwealth Department is involved. In connexion with such undertakings the States are protected by the fact that thev have control of the land. In New South Wales we not only reserve land from alienation, but we have introduced, the betterment principle in connexion with railway construction. In South Australia there is a land tax which may operate with a somewhat similar effect, but the Com- monwealth Government would have no such protection, if it were to undertake the construction of a railway. It is, therefore, desirable, when the construction of the line is not yet before us, that we should look ahead to what our position would be if we should agree eventually to undertake it. I hold the opinion that the States chiefly concerned should undertake the construction of the line, unless some move is made to bring all the railway systems under the control of the Commonwealth Government. It would not do, I think, to have divided control of railways; because the construction of branch lines following the general development of the country would involve very difficult problems. I have always believed that the Commonwealth Government should have control of all the railways, and I have no fear that if that were the case we should be able to overcome all these difficulties. I have no doubt that the people of Western Australia would be in a position to undertake the survey, and perhaps the construction of the line, but we have to recognise the fact that South Australia is not a rich State, and we are, therefore, justified in offering the comparatively small sum which, would be required to carry out a survey of the line.

Mr Kelly - Does the honorable member think that the sum proposed will cover the whole cost?

Mr SPENCE -The Bill proposes £20,000 as the outside cost of the survey. From what I have read concerning the country, and from what I have heard from persons who know it, it would appear to be very easy country for the purposes of railway survey and construction. A very large area of the country is comparatively flat, and is not covered with scrub to any great extent, so that the cost of survey should not be very great. I believe that the Government will be prepared to give the assurance for which we ask.


Mr SPENCE - There should, I think, be no objection to the proposal if we have an assurance from the Government that they will make it a condition precedent to the survey that a favorable reply shall be received from the States Governments to a communication requesting them to guarantee the reservation of a certain area of land on each side of the line.

Mr Page - What is the good of it unless it is put in the Bill?

Mr SPENCE - I fail to see how we can put it in the Bill, as we have no power under the Constitution to control the lands of the States, and further, until the survey is made, we should not be in a position to plot the lands which ought to be reserved.. Western Australia is practically cut off from the Commonwealth under existing circumstances as effectually as if it were an island, and I agree with the general contention of Western Australian representatives in this connexion.

Mr Page - Why not build a line to Tasmania, which is also cut off?

Mr SPENCE - We may probably later on have a service of flying machines; ! to provide communication with Tasmania. I have no doubt, that the States would give the guarantee suggested, because we have the assurance that Western Australia has acted upon the principle, and the honorable member for Perth tells us that the Western Australian Government has already refused to allow a syndicate to take up land on the route of this very line. If the States Governments are prepared to give the assurance to which I have referred, I see no objection to the measure.

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