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Friday, 14 October 1904


Mr SALMON (Laanecoorie) - I hope honorable members will forgive me. if I make a few observations on this question, about which I frankly admit that I feel very strongly. We were told during a previous debate that a distinct bargain had been made in connexion with this particular matter. I have seen no official confirmation of any such bargain. Although some of the people of Western Australia may have been induced to vote for the Federal Constitution Bill on grounds other than the provisions contained in it, and for reasons other than were put forward in the rest of the States, this House is not bound by the arguments used there by the advocates of the Bill. But if we pass the measure now before us, we shall be committed to the construction of the proposed railway, probably at no distant date. It may be that its construction will be postponed, because of an unfavorable report, but, in agreeing to the survey, we are committing ourselves to a first step towards the construction of the line, which we shall not be able to retrace. In my opinion, the only justification for considering the proposal at the present juncture is that it will provide a means of defence. I do not think that the alleged advantages to be obtained by a quicker carriage of mails should weigh with us at all. But, even so far as defence is concerned, I feel that there are many other ways in which the money could be more advantageously expended. The two States most concerned are South Australia and Western Australia. We have had very strong representations of the opinion of the people of Western Australia in regard to the proposal, but the opinion of the people of South Australia has not been nearly so strongly expressed here.


Mr Page - They do not wish for the railway.


Mr SALMON - That is my opinion.


Mr Hutchison - That is because they wish to see the railway to the Northern Territory constructed first.


Mr SALMON - Judging by the reports which I have read, and the speeches which I have heard in this Chamber, the representatives of South Australia are not keen about this proposal'.


Mr Mahon - What South Australian members have spoken against it?


Mr SALMON - -The honorable member for Barker said there was no immediate hurry and no great desire for the line in South Australia.


Mr Mahon - No.


Mr SALMON - Well, the honorable member will not deny that the honorable member for Barker was lukewarm in regard to the proposal.


Mr Mahon - He is not hostile to the construction of the line.


Mr SALMON - I have not said that the representatives of South Australia are hostile to the construction of the line; but they are not keen about it.


Mr Mahon - That is what the honorable member says now ; but he conveyed the impression at first that they are hostile. As a matter of fact, nearly all the representatives of South Australia are very favorable to the project.


Mr SALMON - That is very different from being strong advocates of it. Mr. O'Connor, in paragraph 26 of his report, says -

During its construction very considerable benefit would accrue to several of the States of the Commonwealth, and more especially to Western Australia and South Australia, through the supply of various materials required for construction works, and also food for the men engaged, including increase in revenue of railways by carriage of same over the local lines.

I think that that will be generally admitted. If the representatives of South Australia are not strong and strenuous advocates of the line, it behoves the representatives of other States, which will not benefit so directly, to pause before agreeing to the tremendous outlay proposed. Mr. O'Connor estimated that the cost of rails, connexions, points, and so on. will be about £1,155,000, and the total expenditure £1,155,000, He assumes that an average speed of forty miles an hour will be maintained by the trains, and he allows for the use of 60-lb. rails. I do not set myself up as a railway expert, but I know that it has been the experience of Victoria that heavy trains cannot safely be run at an express speed on 60-lb. rails. If we use such rails, and the traffic proves to be heavy, we shall be faced almost immediately with the necessity of spending a great deal more money to improve the line.


Sir John Forrest - Mr. O'Connor recommended heavier rails than 60-lb. rails.


Mr SALMON - Yes; but that would make the cost much greater than £1,155,000. As the weight of rails is increased their price increases considerably.


Mr Hutchison - But it pays to use heavy rails.


Mr SALMON - When the traffic is sufficiently heavy to justify their use, because, where light rails are used for heavy traffic, the cost of maintenance is enormous. Honorable members are asked to believe that the total cost of the line will be about £4,600,000, but if they take into consideration the nature of the permanent way that is provided for, and the fact that heavy trains are to be run over the line at high rates of speed, they will see that that estimate would soon be exceeded.


Sir John Forrest - No; the actual cost would be less. Mr. O'Connor took the longer route.


Mr SALMON - The honorable member for Perth alluded to the fact that the railway would traverse what is to a large extent unknown territory.


Sir John Forrest - It is not unknown territory. Every inch of it is known.


Mr SALMON - Then the statements of two of the representatives of Western Australia in regard to it are contradictory.


Mr Fowler - Its capabilities are largely unknown.


Mr SALMON - In paragraph 23 of the report it is stated that, even on the moderate estimate of cost which has been made, the Commonwealth will have to bear for some years an annual loss of £28,000. Mr. O'Connor goes on to say -

But this result would no doubt improve in the course of time, such being the history of railways all over the world.

I am not prepared to commit the Commonwealth to a huge expenditure upon the prospect of such an improvement.


Mr Mcwilliams - In the case of ordinary railways, .the estimate of cost may be increased by 50 per cent., and that of the revenue decreased by a similar proportion.


Mr SALMON - Even at a moderate estimate pf the cost of construction and maintenance, we have to face an inevitable deficit of £28,000 per annum for a series of years. I would ask honorable members to remember what took place when we were discussing the expenditure that would be involved if a dissolution took place. The opinion was then expressed that one of the first considerations ;should be economy, and, if honorable members cast their memories back still further, they will remember that we agreed without demur to a proposition that we should go before the electors at the same time as the members of the Senate, in order to save the cost of a second election. In the face of these facts, how are we going to justify an expenditure which is so unwarranted at the present time, and which would go so far towards minimizing the benefit conferred upon the Commonwealth by our previous action in this Parliament ?


Sir John Forrest - £20,000 is a terribly large amount.


Mr SALMON -The right honorable gentleman is accustomed ,'to deal with enormous sums in a fashion with which other Ministers are unfamiliar. Fortunately for him, he was backed up by a substantial majority of the people of his State, and I admit that he expended large sums of money to the greatest advantage. However, as I am opposed to borrowing, so far as the Commonwealth is concerned, and I do not consider it advisable to impose direct taxation, I cannot follow the right honorable gentleman in treating lightly the expenditure of even £20,000. The honorable member for Darling told us that under the Constitution we could exercise no control over the land along the route of the proposed line, and upon that ground he based his opposition to any proposal to engraft upon the Bill a provision that the States should first agree to certain reservations of land. I would' suggest, however, that we surely have the right to make conditions in respect to the expenditure of a large sum of money upon such a work as that contemplated.


Mr Frazer - Any excuse is good enough, if the honorable member objects to the proposal.


Mr SALMON - That may be the view of the honorable member, but I take very much higher ground than he supposes. It has been proposed that we should take over the debts of the States, and it is possible that prior to assuming their responsibilities in that regard, we shall make it a condition that they shall hand over the control of the railways to the Commonwealth.


Sir John Forrest - They are not likely to hand them over.


Mr SALMON - If we could make a condition of that kind, surely we could provide that the land along the route ofthe proposed railway should be vested in the Commonwealth.


Mr Fowler - We shall require to see a much better Federal spirit evinced before the States intrust any more concerns to the Commonwealth.


Mr SALMON - The honorable member for Perth told us that the experience of Western Australia in. connexion with the construction of railways had been so unfortunate that he did not think that it would undertake any further works of that de: scription.


Mr Fowler - I was referring only to private railways constructed on the land grant system.


Mr SALMON - I beg the honorable member's pardon. I misunderstood his remarks. The Western Australian Government could not reasonably object to a proviso such as that indicated.


Mr Fowler - They would welcome it.


Mr SALMON -I believe that this is the proper time to make the condition. It would be of no use for us to wait until the work had been commenced or completed. It must be remembered that no fixed sum of money has been allocated to cover the cost of the survey, and that our experience in the past is that estimates in connexion with works of this kind are very frequently exceeded. If the work were in progress, and it were found that£20,000 was not sufficient, the Government would have no compunction about asking for a further sum of, say,£10,000 or £20,000. After having committed ourselves to the expenditure of the first amount, we could scarcely avoid making the additional appropriation necessary for the completion of the work. During a recent debate frequent reference was made to the ultimate aims of a certain party in this House We must not lose sight of the aims of those honorable members who are in favour of the proposed survey. Their aim is the construction of the line, and those honorable members who do not believe in that are fully justified in opposing the proposed survey.


Mr Fowler - If our advocacy is not justified, the survey will demonstrate it.


Mr SALMON - I desire to know what the survey will prove.


Mr Hutchison - The honorable member would not oppose the construction of the railway until he had the fullest information upon the subject?


Mr SALMON - I already have quite sufficient information to enable me to make up my mind. Surely the honorable member will allow me to be the judge as to what is sufficient in that particular regard.


Mr Mahon - There is nothing in the proposal for the benefit of the electors of Laanecoorie ; 'that is the secret of the honorable member's opposition.


Mr SALMON - I shall take no notice of that suggestion. What is the survey to prove? According to one honorable member, we do not know this country j but, so far as we can judge from the reports, it is a waterless waste. The right honorable member for Swan tells us that the country is thoroughly well known, and that it has already been surveyed, whilst other honorable members state that we know nothing about it. Honorable members have evidently shaped their arguments to fit the circumstances as they have arisen. When it is suggested that a substantial area of land should be reserved along the proposed route, we are told by some honorable members that the land is absolutely worthless - that it is a desert.


Sir John Forrest - Who said that ?


Mr SALMON - The honorable member for Darling.


Mr Poynton - He stated that other people had said so.


Sir John Forrest - The honorable member for Darling has not been over the country.


Mr SALMON - The right honorable member for Swan tells us' that the railway line will pass through magnificent country, and that fine stretches of rolling downs will be opened up by the line.


Sir John Forrest - That is quite correct, and if the honorable member will look at Mr. Muir's report he will see that statement borne out.


Mr SALMON - I think that we shall be thoroughly justified in postponing, at any rate for a period, the survey of the proposed line, and especially its construction. The honorable member for Newcastle made a most valuable suggestion, and I am glad that the Minister of Home Affairs has already intimated that it is the intention of the Government to adopt it. I desire to make another suggestion. I hope that if it is decided to construct the railway, provision will be made for the adoption of the method which has proved so beneficial in Victoria, namely, the butty-gang system. We have had a number of light railways constructed in Victoria-


Mr SPEAKER - I would remind the honorable member that we are not now dealing with the question of construction, but of survey.


Mr SALMON - I hope that, as the result of the survey, the Government will take means to provide, not only against the exploitation of the lands along the line of route, but also that the construction shall be carried out under Government supervision upon the system which has proved so successful in Victoria. In the past we have suffered severely as the result of the enormous profits which have been wrung, from nearly all the States by contractors


Sir John Forrest - We do not suffer from that nowadays.


Mr SALMON - We do. I trust that further large sums will not be thrown away in that direction. I hope that a clause will be inserted in this Bill providing for the reservation of the lands upon each side of the proposed railway. If the survey be carried out I trust that it will be conducted as economically as possible, and that Parliament will not be subsequently asked to provide a further sum of money to complete a work which a considerable section of this House deems both inadvisable and inopportune.







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