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Friday, 14 October 1904

Mr SKENE (Grampians) - I could understand the speech of the honorable member for Laanecoorie if it had been delivered after the proposed trial survey had been made. He affirms that he has obtained sufficient information' to warrant him in deciding against a survey of the route of the projected railway. Where he has derived that information I cannot even conjecture. At first I was disposed to think that there was no justification for a survey of the line, but the more I looked into the matter the more I became convinced that there were sufficient grounds to warrant it being undertaken. I have read reports which state that there are millions of acres of grassy land along the probable route of the line. I have perused the report of the right honorable member for Swan upon the country to the south, and I have also studied the accounts furnished by Mr. Muir and others. According to these authorities there are millions of acres of grassy land along the probable route of the line, and that fact seems to me at least to justify further investigation. As I stated on a previous occasion, unless the country between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie possesses better possibilities than at first sight present themselves, I shall not vote for the- construction of the line. My fears are n6t only on account of the character of the land, but also on account of the want of the water. Apparently the representatives of Western Australia think that there will be sufficient justification for the construction of the line if the fact be established that good land exists between Port Augusta and the Western Australian border, even though there may not be any prospect of a large traffic upon' it. I cannot understand why the honorable member for Laanecoorie should twit the right honorable member for Swan with talking lightly about the expenditure of millions of pounds. Some men can handle millions sterling better than others can handle pence, and, seeing that the right honorable member has always justified any large expenditure for which he is responsible, I think- that we ought to seriously regard his views upon this question instead of jeering at them. Honorable members have repeatedly jeered at the right honorable member for Swan for declaring that he had expended millions of pounds, whilst acknowledging in the same breath that he had spent those millions well. Verv early in the debate the right honorable member declared that he believed this line would pay, and that he made the statement fully conscious of the fact that he had a reputation to lose. Of course we may say that he is interested in Western Australia.

Mr Salmon - Is that an argument whichshould appeal to this House?

Mr Fowler - The objections which are now being urged against the Transcontinental Railway were urged in opposition to the Coolgardie water scheme, which is paying handsomely to-day.

Mr SKENE - I recollect my father telling me that in the early days of Victoria he was able to lead his horse over what are now grassy plains without putting his foot upon a solitary blade of verdure. The fact that there are millions of acres of grassy land, some of it timbered, upon the probable route of the proposed line indicates that there is a . possibility of obtaining water at no very great depth. To my mind, the proposed survey should be one of an exploratory character, and especially so in regard to the supply of water. I understand that to the north of the Great Australian Bight there is a stretch of limestone country where water can be obtained only at a very great depth, if at all. That is the chief difficulty which has to be confronted. A thorough search should be made for water, as the survey progresses.

Mr Page - The right honorable member for Swan says that he can conserve water along the route.

Mr SKENE - Water may be obtained from certain catchment areas, but I have grave doubt about it, because I understand that it soaks away very rapidly. As the survey proceeds, I am of opinion that efforts should be made to obtain water by sinking. The country to be traversed is of limestone formation, and is not likely to prove rich in minerals. I am heartily in sympathy with the idea that the land upon each side. of the line for a reasonable distance should be reserved.

Mr Page - How many shares would the honorable member be prepared to take in a private syndicate formed for the purpose of consttucting this line?

Mr SKENE - I have never had anything to do with the construction, of railways. The honorable member for Corangamite said that a century hence, when population has been settled upon the country which the line will traverse, it will be time enough to undertake its construction. To my mind, that is not the way to develop our resources. If he had visited America he would know that the railways there are pushed out from the various centres, and that settlement follows. Under the landgrant system there, it. is customary to give those persons who undertake the construction of railways every alternate block, It is idle to say to the people, " Go out into the interior and live there as best you can for some years, and then we will construct a railway." That is not exhibiting an enterprising spirit. If the country which the proposed line would traverse proves to be of good quality, and if water can be found along the route, we shall have some justification for constructing it. That is my reason for voting for the second reading of this measure. If the survey does not disclose that the land is worth opening up, and likely to be able to support a population, I shall not be disposed to go any further.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And if the survey is favorable, is the honorable member prepared to vote for the construction of the railway immediately?

Mr SKENE - If a sufficient supply of water is available,, and if the country proves to be of good quality, I shall be prepared to support the construction of the line within a reasonable period. Under such circumstances, I shall be obliged to take into consideration the fact that there is a large gold-field at Kalgoorlie, and that the competition by sea cannot be so keen as it otherwise would be, because goods intended for that centre have first to be transported to Perth, and then forwarded by rail for a distance of 400 miles east. There is, first of all, the gold-fields population, which is likely to be employed for the next fifty years in opening up those fields, and if in addition to that fact the report of the survey party shows that there is. good country to be developed and that a water supply is available, I shall feel justified, but not otherwise, in voting for the line. The report might show that there is good grazing or agricultural country along the line of route, but unless it also sets forth that water could be obtained at a reasonable depth to aid in developing the country I should not vote for the construction of the railway.

Mr Mcwilliams - But this Bill makes no provision for testing the water supply.

Mr SKENE - I should like to ask the Minister of Home Affairs if provision will be made in that direction. It has been suggested that the mineral resources of the country should receive attention, but while that is undoubtedly a very important matter, it is still more important that the water supply should be tested. If the land itself were ever so suitable for grazing or agricultural purposes, it would be valueless without a proper water supply.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - To what extent does the honorable member suggest that tests should be made? Does he propose that bores should be put down?

Mr SKENE - Bores should be put down at likely places along the route.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But the total cost would have to be kept within £20,000.

Mr SKENE - The survey will be of very little value to the advocates of the line, unless it shows that the country is good and that water is available. I do not know whether the Minister has any faith in the divining rod, but from some information which I have received lately I am inclined to attach some importance to its use. Some of my friends have employed it with very successful results. In any event, steps should be taken to test the water supply, either by putting down bores, or in some other effective way. I certainly intend to support the proposal outlined by the honorable and learned member for Parkes. ' We should have some indication from the Governments of Western Australia and South Australia that they are prepared to reserve the land along both sides of the line. If the land is fit to be opened up by a railway, it is only reasonable that the Commonwealth should1 receive some benefit from it.

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