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Thursday, 22 April 1915

Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan) .- I do not 'desire to discuss the External Affairs Department, except in regard to the Northern Territory, and I rise, not to criticise the Government, or to find fault with anybody, but in the hope that I may be able to interest honorable members in regard to the matters specially under thenconsideration, and in order that we may be able collectively to do our best for that large area of country which has been intrusted to us. The problem before us is a difficult one, as 'it proved a difficult one to South Australia in her efforts to settle the country a long time ago. More than forty years have passed since the enterprising people of South Australia undertook that great work. They constructed a telegraph line right across the continent through an unknown and an uncivilized country for a couple of thousand miles, and an immense amount of money was expended in trying to develop the Territory. I may say in passing, however, lest there should be any wrong impression, that all the money South Australia ever expended upon the Territory has been returned to that State by the Commonwealth, and I am not aware that South Australia has lost anything in regard to those transactions. That State employed a large amount of capital, and a great deal of energy, in the effort to develop the Territory; but it was not successful, and the problem was too great for a State with a small population. Therefore, the responsibility and the obligation came over to the Commonwealth, and we have to ask ourselves what we are going to do with it now that we have it. It is not an easy task. Some years have passed since it was taken over. More than one Government has been in existence since then. and still there has not been much progress.

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Mr Carr - We are pledged to the railway, though.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I will come to that in a moment. During the last time I was in office, in conjunction with my honorable friend the honorable member for Angas, I gave a great deal of attention to this matter, with the object of seeing what we could do with the Territory. I felt that the responsibility was a heavy one, for the annual loss in connexion with the interest on the loans, and including the loss upon the railway from Oodnadatta to Port Augusta, was about £500,000 a year, and of course, as Treasurer, I was anxious to see what could be done to place the Territory in a position to do something in the direction of paying its own way. I had many opportunities of consulting with the Administrator, Dr. Gilruth, and I would like_to say here that, while I was rather prejudiced against him at first, thinking, perhaps, he was extravagant and not practical, I quickly realized that he was a man of great energy, full of ideas, and very sanguine. I formed a good opinion of him, and did my best to assist him. The opinion which I have already expressed in this chamber in regard to the development of the Northern Territory, and which I repeat with more confidence now that I have had the advantage of speaking with the Administrator and of studying the question more thoroughly, is that the first thing to be done is, metaphorically speaking, to let daylight into the country. We must open up the Territory by railways, and make it possible for the people of Australia to get there. At the present time that part of the continent is in darkness. The only practicable way of getting there is by taking steamer to Port Darwin. To travel there overland one would have to ride for hundreds of miles, whether he went from the nearest point on the Queensland railway system or from Oodnadatta. When Treasurer in the Cook Administration, I drew up a scheme of which the Prime Minister of the day approved, and which the Government communicated to the Government of Queensland. We suggested that the Government of Queensland should extend its railway from Cloncurry to a point on the western border of the State, a distance of about 150 miles, and that the

Commonwealth Government should undertake to proceed with the construction of a line from that point through Alroy Station and Anthony's Lagoon to Newcastle Waters" on the overland telegraph line, carrying the railway thence as far as the Katherine, and then joining the railway from Port Darwin.

Mr Poynton - That scheme absolutely ignored the agreement with South Australia.

Sir JOHN FORREST - In saying that, my honorable friend is incorrect and ungenerous.

Mr Mahon - The honorable member for Angas did not approve of the scheme.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I think that he did ; but whether he did or not, I have views of my own on this question, and submit them to this House with confidence. What I proposed would have let daylight into the Territory, and would have made it, in a year or two, accessible by means of the Queensland railway from the port of Townsville. Had my suggestion been carried into effect, the Northern Territory would, within a year or two, have been made accessible by railway from all other parts of Australia. There was no wish to ignore the agreement with South Australia. We had no desire to repudiate that agreement, nor should we have failed to keep faith with the people of South Australia. No member of this Committee wishes to do that.

Mr Poynton - There was no proposal for the construction of a main line through South Australia. I have the correspondence.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member has read only one-half of it. He has an eye only for the interests of Adelaide, while I do not forget the interests of that city, but regard as of supreme importance the speedy development of the Northern Territory. The Administrator, Dr. Gilruth, had travelled overland from Cloncurry to Camooweal, and on to Bitter Springs or Newcastle Waters, and thence down the telegraph line to Alice Springs, where his motor car broke down, forcing him to return on horseback to Port Darwin. He had, therefore, some knowledge of the country across the Barclay Tableland, and along the telegraph line, and reported to me that the country along the telegraph line from Bitter Springs and Newcastle Waters to Alice Springs is of the poorest nature.

Mr Mcwilliams - We knew that when we made the agreement with South Australia.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The Administrator said that he would not recommend the taking of the railway through that country. His recommendation was that we should continue the railway from the Katherine River south along the telegraph line, past Bitter Springs or Daly Waters, from there making a detour to the eastward, through the good country of the Barclay Tableland as far as Anthony's Lagoon. He recommended that, later, a branch line should be taken- north-east from Anthony's Lagoon towards the Pelew Islands, to a good harbor at the mouth of the Macarthur River. . The great southern railway he thought should go from Anthony's Lagoon to Alroy Station, and from there to Alice Springs, and on to Oodnadatta. There would then be a line from Port Darwin to Oodnadatta, with a branch line, having a length of 150 or 200 miles, from Alroy Station to the Queensland border, connecting with the railway system of Queensland at Camooweal.

Mr Patten - How did the Administrator describe the country from Alice Springs to Oodnadatta ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - He did not see that country, but it is well known that it is very poor. Of course, you have sometimes to go through poor country to get in rich country. The country between Alroy Station and Alice Springs has not been examined, but the Administrator told me that he had had good reports of it. That country could have been examined by a surveyor with a few camels in a couple of months: I do not know whether the examination of it has been made. But those who accuse us of a breach of faith with South Australia forget that, with, the exception of a length of from 150 to 200 miles from Alroy Station to the Queensland border, the line that we proposed would be part of the main line through South Australia via Oodnadatta to Adelaide. Whether the agreement with South Australia was wise or unwise, I am prepared to give effect to it, because we cannot go back on a bargain definitely made. To continue the railway northwards from Oodnadatta would have some advantages in respect nf the obtaining of labour, and so on, but it would not immediately assist in developing the Northern Territory, because an extension of 330 miles would take it only as far as the Macdonnell Ranges to a point 1,000 miles from Port Darwin.

Mr Poynton - Tt would tap the very best of the country.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Between Oodnadatta and Alice Springs the average rainfall is only 10 inches per annum, and the country some of the poorest in Australia. In 1874 I came down the Alberga River from the interior, for a distance of 100 miles or more, and could not find any water, except by digging in the bed of the river, which is formed by the storm waters of the Musgrave Ranges. That country is very poor, and there is little hope of settlement there. From the Macdonnell Ranges northwards there may be a rainfall of from 14 to 15 inches, and still further north a rainfall of from 15 to 25 inches. But on poor country, with a rainfall of only 10 inches, settlement cannot be expected, and after many years there is practically none between Oodnadatta and Alice Springs, notwithstanding the existence of a railway to Oodnadatta.

Mr McWilliams - There is not much settlement on the Pine Creek railway.

Sir JOHN FORREST - That may be because the Northern Territory is not yet easily accessible from other parts of Australia. I think that I have disposed of the charge of breach of faith which has been levelled against me and against the Government of which I was a member. Underlying the proposal that we made to the Government of Queensland, there was no intention of ignoring in the slightest degree the obligations of the Commonwealth towards South Australia. But if I am asked, as an honest man, and as one who has some knowledge^ of these matters, what my opinion is, I say that to construct a railway all along the telegraph line through South Australia without connecting with the Queensland system would delay the development of the Northern Territory for many years, and that there is neither sense nor judgment in such a proposal. What we should do i9 to open up the good country quickly, making it accessible from Queensland, and from some convenient point - we thought from Alroy Station - turn south to Alice Springs and north from

Oodnadatta, junctioning at Alice Springs, and thus finish the railway from Port Darwin to Adelaide through the centre of the continent. Queensland rejected the offer made by the Cook Government to connect Australia with the Northern Territory with its railway system, and I think there never was a greater mistake made on the part of any administrative Government than that. The offer, it seemed to me, was one that was to the great advantage of Queensland. The railway would have given Queensland an opening for its stock, and for its people, right into the Northern Territory, and the railway would have utilized all the timber it could have supplied for sleepers. It would have made Townsville a port of the Northern Territory in the same way that Port Darwin is the port further north. For some reason Queensland rejected the offer. I do not know why, but I should have thought that it would have been greatly to their advantage to have accepted it with open arms. I have studied the geography of the country; I have had the advantage of knowing the views of Dr. Gilruth, and all the people who have gone into this question are absolutely in accord with my views on the subject; and yet I find my honorable friend, and other people, charging the Government of which I was a member with a breach of faith, whereas, if the facts were only known, we were their best friends. T am not) responsible for the views of members like the honorable member for Grey, who has the one idea of benefiting Adelaide and nowhere else. In the views I put forward I have no " axe to grind " but I think they will be shared by all reasonable people. I have denied that we had any thought of not keeping fair.h with South Australia, and South Australia will find that we will keep faith, fmd will do what is right.

Mr Poynton - In the next century.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Not at all. If I were actuated by the honorable member's taunts it might be the next century, but I will take no notice of the unfair and unjust remarks he makes. There is another matter to which I should like to refer for a moment. What about the gauge of this railway? The honorable member is advocating that we should first ga north for 337 miles with, a railway which will not open up the Northern Territory one bit, but he has not told us what are the defects of the proposal. This railway is 3 ft. 6 in. from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta. Is he going to continue it at 3 ft. 6 in. or 4 ft. 8£ in. ?

Mr Poynton - -It should be 4 ft. 8& in.

Sir JOHN FORREST - And there will be a change of gauge at Oodnadatta.

Mr Poynton - There would have to be an alteration from Coward's Springs-

Sir JOHN FORREST - I think the people of South Australia will disapprove of the honorable member if he goes on to a platform and advocates the closing of the line from Port Augusta by Hergott Springs to Oodnadatta.

Mr Poynton - There is no proposition to that effect.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Does the honorable member propose that the Commonwealth should keep two lines open, then? The difficulty of the gauge, I admit, is most troublesome. I should like to have a uniform gauge throughout Australia, and it was with some reluctance that I acquiesced in the suggestion - though the matter was agreed to by the House - that we should keep the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge from Port Darwin to the Queensland border, making provision for the sleepers to be long enough for the width between the rails to be increased, and the weight of rails to he 80 lbs. to the yard. That was because Queensland is on the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, and we thought perhaps it would he better to have the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge through Queensland to the Northern Territory. But what we shall do in regard to the line north of Oodnadatta is another matter, which I am not in any way committed to, and I should prefer that, if possible, we should have the broader gauge. I find, according to the papers before us, that the public debt on the Northern Territory is £3,500,000, and the existing railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta has cost £2,000,000 odd, so that we have nearly £6,000,000 spent in connexion with taking over the Northern Territory and this railway. The expenditure on these Estimates is about half a million, while the revenue is under £50,000. I have had long interviews and long arguments with Dr. Gilruth, and I have come to the conclusion that the best course for us to pursue is as I have stated, and the only reason why we have not gone ahead is that we have not had the consent of Queensland in regard to the offer that was made to them. There is also the question of ways and means ; but I am not going into that matter, which is one for the Government.

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