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Wednesday, 9 June 1915


Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan) .- It cannot be said that there is any lack of interest on the part of honorable members in the question of the development of the Northern Territory. The attention given to this question no doubt is due to the small progress that has been made in developing the Territory since it was taken over by the Commonwealth, and the enormous expenditure that is being incurred in respect of the payment of interest on the public debt and in carrying on the administration. I do not propose at this stage to criticise either the Minister or the Government regard ing what has been done, because I fully realize that there has not been very much time within which to carry out any great work, and that the war, which, unfortunately, is raging at the present time, has engrossed our attention, and led us to hold over what we might otherwise have done in respect of this important matter. The difficulties associated with the Territory are that the climate is tropical, and that its products are such as are supplied by the cheap coloured labour of other countries. It is not likely that, except for home consumption, the tropical products of the Northern Territory, grown by white labour, could compete with those of countries where cheap coloured labour is used.


Mr Archibald - What about the improvements .in machinery ?


Sir JOHN FORREST - They, too, can be employed elsewhere. We know that cattle do well in the Northern Territory, and that on the Barclay Tablelands and south thereof sheep also do well. I have always had great hope of the development of mineral production in the Northern Territory. It is undoubtedly a mineral country, and a good deal of gold has been obtained there, although no large mines are being worked at the present time. The mines opened up seem to have petered out at no great depth.


Mr Mahon - There are some good mines there.


Sir JOHN FORREST - They do not produce much gold.


Mr Mahon - They are on the way to do so.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I repeat that I have great hopes of the mineral production of the Northern Territory, and' I believe that if we expended a considerable sum in making a complete geological survey of it we should do well. We cannot do better than let daylight into the Territory, so to speak, by the construction of railways, so that people who are enterprising and desire to settle there, or embark their capital there, may have an opportunity of inspecting it. With that object in view, the late Government, of which I was a member, made the construction of railways in the Territory the primary part of their policy. A statement, representing the views of the Liberal Government, laid on the table of the House on 12th August, 1913, contained these very definite words -

Parliament would be asked to provide funds for trial surveys with the object of connecting by railway Port Darwin with Port Augusta, viti Macdonnell Ranges and with the eastern railway system -

That is, the railway systems in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia - via Camooweal -

Honorable members will see that the Liberal Government made it part of their policy to connect the railway from Pine Creek southwards to Oodnadatta, vid the Macdonnell Ranges, with Camooweal, on the western boundary of Queensland. That statement continued - which will open up the country for agricultural and pastoral settlement. Without these main lines of transit it will be impossible to complete our defences or to adequately develop the resources of the Northern Territory.

That was the policy of the late Government, and had we remained in office we fully intended to carry it out. It has been said by honorable members representing South Australia, and I think it is understood by a good many people outside, that there is in existence an undertaking by the Commonwealth to build a railway to connect Port Darwin with South Australia vid the Macdonnell Ranges and Oodnadatta - the line which the late Government proposed to build - but I submit that no undertaking of that kind was given by this Parliament or by anybody until the late Government placed that proposal in their platform. I will read the agreement into which the Commonwealth entered with South Australia when it took over the Northern Territory, and honorable members will be able to judge for themselves as to whether the Commonwealth had undertaken to' do that which the late Government proposed to do. The Commonwealth, by its agreement with South Australia, undertook - to construct, or cause to be constructed, a railway line from Port Darwin southwards to a point on the northern boundary of .South Australia proper, which railway, with the railway from a point on the Port Augusta railway to connect therewith, is hereinafter referred to as the transcontinental railway.

Also - to construct, or cause to be constructed, as part of the transcontinental railway, a railway from a point on the Port Augusta railway to connect with the other part of the transcontinental railway at a point on the northern boundary of South Australia proper.

I know that at the time those words were used the Government were not sufficiently informed on the subject to know exactly the route the railway would follow from Port Darwin to join the railway from Oodnadatta to Port Augusta, and therefore that language was employed; but the Commonwealth was bound to build a railway to cross the northern boundary of South Australia somewhere. I only mention this fact to show that those who argue that the Commonwealth is committed to the construction of a railway direct southward along the telegraph line from Port Darwin, vid Alice Springs and the Macdonnell Ranges, to Oodnadatta have no foundation in this agreement for the statements they make. The only foundation they can claim is that the late Government, of which I was a member, did mention, as part of their policy, the construction of a line to connect Port Darwin, vid the Macdonnell Ranges, with Oodnadatta. That is the only pledge that has been given - at any rate, in such definite words. - by any one. Reference was made in the House a few nights ago, and by the honorable member for Grey in the South Australian press, to a letter written by the then Prime Minister, at my suggestion, to the Premier of Queensland, in which it was advocated that a railway should be built by the Queensland Government to Camooweal from Cloncurry, a distance of about 150 miles, on condition that the Commonwealth carried its line on westward through the Barclay Tablelands to Newcastle Waters and thence northerly until it joined the railway coming south from Pine Creek and the Katherine River.


Mr Mahon - You did not propose that the Commonwealth should build from Camooweal, which is in Queensland, to the border?


Sir JOHN FORREST - No. Our idea was to carry our line to the Queensland border somewhere near Camooweal, which is very close to the border. When I made that suggestion I had in mind the Government programme, wherein we had undertaken to build a railway to join Port Darwin to Port Augusta vid the Macdonnell Ranges.


Mr Poynton - Your idea was unfortunately expressed in your letter.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member is like the Mussulman of Fez or Delhi, who in his daily prayers turns lr» face towards the temple of Mecca, for his eyes are always fixed on the city of Adelaide.


Mr Poynton - You had your eyes on the western railway always.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I confess that I set before myself the construction of that great national work, and I glory in the fact that my efforts were successful. I may explain that after we hail pledged ourselves to build this railway, the question of route between the Katherine River and Oodnadatta, viti the Macdonnell Ranges, had to be considered. I had not sufficient personal knowledge to justify me in expressing an opinion, but I was guided by the opinion of Dr. Gilruth, who had travelled over the country between Newcastle Waters and Alice Springs, and described it as being very poor. He did not advise that the railway should go in that direction, but thought that a detour should be made through the Barclay Tablelands, which is excellent country, to a place called Anthony's Lagoon; thence to Alroy Station; and thence southward for 339 miles to Alice Springs. The distance from Newcastle Waters to Alice Springs via the telegraph line, is 470 miles, and a detour as proposed by Dr. Gilruth would increase the distance by about 100 miles. . One great advantage in that route which appealed to me was that it would pass through good country all the way from Newcastle Waters to Anthony's Lagoon and Alroy Station, a distance of 238 miles, and Alroy Station is only 150 miles from Camooweal, on the "Queensland border. By that means we should have had a common line from Port Darwin for a distance of 688 miles to Alroy Station. At that point the two lines would diverge; one would go west of south to Alice Springs, a distance of 339 miles; and from Alice Springs through the Macdonnell Ranges to Oodnadatta, a distance of 297 miles; the other would go eastward to Camooweal, near the Queensland border, a distance of 150 miles. That seemed to me to be an excellent idea.


Mr Archibald - It would have been on a narrow-gauge railway.


Sir JOHN FORREST - that does not make any difference to my argument; the distance is the same, whether the gauge be narrow or wide. The only difficulty if the railway was constructed on the 4-ft. 8i-in. gauge would be the change of gauge at the Queensland border. In constructing the line on the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, the sleepers could be made long enough to allow of the widening of the gauge, and then the gauge would be the same from Port Darwin to Port Augusta, and from Port Darwin through Queensland to Wallangarra, where the New South Wales gauge of 4 ft. 8 J in. would be reached.


Mr Poynton - Did your scheme provide for starting construction from Oodnadatta ?


Sir JOHN FORREST - We had not reached the constructing stage. The bargain had been made, and it had to be kept. This is no small matter. The present war had not broken out at the time my letter was written, but the Government of which I was a member had the smallest of majorities, and many large obligations, and money was nob too plentiful. To make a railway from the- Katherine to Oodnadatta, connecting with the Queensland border and the anchorage at Hie Pellew Islands, would probably cost £7,000,000, and would occupy several years, the distance being about 1,000 miles.


Mr Archibald - It should not take longer than the construction of the eastwest railway.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I hope that it will not take so long. But in the latter case you are going to a settled country, in which there is a considerable population, an immense trade, while in the former you- must develop the country through which it passes in order to create traffic.


Mr Sharpe - Will any of the traffic from the Northern Territory go across the east-west railway?


Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not think so.


Mr Yates - The right honorable member said last week that he had no axe to grind.


Sir JOHN FORREST - And I am riot aware that I have any.


Mr Yates - The right honorable member's axe is already ground.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I am not always thinking of myself. The railway to Oodnadatta stops within 300 miles of the Macdonnell Ranges, and, although it has been constructed for many years, the intervening country is still uninhabited.

The honorable member for Wakefield told us the other day that it is a droughtstricken country.


Mr Richard Foster - It is all occupied.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I understand that there are but few sheep or cattle there. I cannot understand theattitude of the honorable members for Grey and Adelaide. The late Government, of which I was a member, placed upon its policy programme the construction of the line which they advocate, and their present tactics seem to me to be calculated to alienate support of which they should try to take advantage. Without a tittle of evidence, and notwithstanding our Statements to the contrary they charge me and the other members of the last Ministry with breach of faith and the repudiation of an agreement; They must think they are making some political capital, or otherwise they would not seek to quarrel with their friends. When I wrote the letter to the then Prime Minister to which reference has been made, I had in mind the fact that from Camooweal to Alroy Station is only 150 miles, and that when those places are connected by railway we can continue quickly southwards and westwards. When what I suggest is done, viz., the railway from Port Darwin to Alroy Station, 688 miles of the through line from Port Darwin to Oodnadatta will have been constructed, and 150 miles of railway from Alroy Station will connect withCamooweal on the Queensland border. Are the representatives of South Australia opposed to any connexion with the Queensland railway system ?


Mr Yates - We are prepared to have the two railways constructed together.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Are we notto connect with the Queensland railway system until a line has been carried through Central Australia from Port Darwin to Oodnadatta ? That is not what we pledged ourselves to. Our policy was to connect Port Darwin and Port Augusta by a railwaygoing via the Macdonnell Ranges with a branch to Camooweal connecting it with the railway systems of the eastern States.


Mr Yates - What did the right honorable member say in his letter?


Sir JOHN FORREST - Nothing contrary to that.


Mr Yates - That as an alternative he would be obliged to go on with the north-south line, to which his Government was pledged.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The connexion which I suggest would mean the construction of only 150 miles of railway. There never was a more dog-in-the-manger policy than that of the honorable members for Grey and Adelaide, who virtually say that until a railway is taken right through South Australia, at a cost of several millions of pounds, and requiring several years to construct, the Northern Territory shall not be connected with the Queensland railway system, although a connexion could be given by laying down 150 miles of railway. They cannot hope for the sympathy of the members of their party or any one else in such a selfish and foolish policy.


Mr Yates - Why did the right honorable member have his speech printed by request in the Adelaide Advertiser?


Sir JOHN FORREST - When I read the long letter in which the honorable member for Grey misrepresented my action and the proposals of the late Government, I wrote to the newspaper in which it was published stating that it would be only fair to publish my speech; but I now hear for the first time that it has been published.


Mr Poynton - I merely quoted from the right honorable member's letter.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member made a good many statements that were not accurate. Let the honorable member and the honorable member for Adelaide tell the Committee plainly that their wish is that a railway should be taken right through South Australia before a connexion with the Queensland border is made.


Mr Poynton - We asked, and insist that the railway shall be continued from Oodnadatta to the MacDonnell Range concurrently with any construction from the other end.


Sir JOHN FORREST - That is a matter of policy, to be settled bymy honorable friends opposite. We have never yet considered how the construction of these railways shall be undertaken.


Mr Yates - The right honorable member in his letter said which should have precedence.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not withdraw one iota of what I have written, because I believe that I defined a good policy for the opening up of the Territory. I think that my second letter did not reach the Premier of Queensland, that it did not get beyond the then Prime Minister.


Mr Poynton - The then Minister of External Affairs would not indorse it.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I shall deal with that interjection presently. I said to the Prime Minister on the 30th June, and he indorsed the statement, that if the Northern Territory is to be opened up by railways, within a few years we must build from the Katherine southwards to Newcastle Waters, and from Camooweal westward to Newcastle Waters. That was to be a first instalment of the whole construction, and would mean the making of a railway for a distance of 838 miles from Camooweal to Port Darwin, 146 miles of the track being already laid, viz., from Port Darwin to Pine Creek. There would then remain 636 miles to connect Ahoy Station with Oodnadatta. Although I am not now in office, I repeat that the route which I favour, from the information I have gained from those who know the country, is from Port Darwin to Pine Creek, a distance of 146 miles, for which the railway is already constructed; from Pine Creek to the Katherine, a distance of 54 miles; and from the Katherine to Newcastle Waters, another 250 miles; thence to Anthony's Lagoon, which is 592 miles from Port Darwin, and on to Alroy Station, which is 688 miles from Port Darwin. From Anthony's Lagoon there would be a branch line to Peilew Islands anchorage near Booroloola, a distance of 236 miles. From Alroy Station there would be a connexion with Camooweal, a distance of 150 miles, and the main line would go on from Alroy Station to Alice Springs, 339 miles, and from Alice Springs to Oodnadatta, a distance of 297 miles.


Mr Richard Foster - The right honorable member apparently wishes that the construction shall be from the north southwards.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I have never said so. The honorable and learned member for Angas and myself are in agreement as to route. The method of construction was never considered between us, except that I told him that I could not make provision on the Estimates of 1913-14 for the construction of these railways. We had not then sufficient information. All we could do was to determine a policy.


Mr Glynn - And we also sanctioned surveys.

The honorable member's time having expired, leave to continue granted.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable and learned member for Angas would have liked to commence the work of construction at once, but I considered that want of information and the financial position did not justify that. We had a great many other obligations to meet, and had not been long in office. It was too soon to propose the construction of railways which would cost many millions of money, but had we remained in office we should probably have done something in the next session. My honorable and learned friend was desirous of constructing 300 miles of railway from Oodnadatta to the Macdonnell Range, but I held that such an extension of the present line by itself would not in any way develop the Northern Territory, because its terminus would be 1,000 miles from Port Darwin. I did not say that we should not make that extension, nor that I would not build from the south. There are many advantages in building from the south. For one thing, labour can be obtained in the south, but is difficult to get in the north. The route that we advocate, except for 150 miles, is common to both - the through line and the line to Camooweal - and it seems to me that no public man, not even the honorable members for Grey or Adelaide, if they were in office, would dare to declare that they would build a line for 688 miles from Port Darwin to Alroy Station, and then carry it 339 miles down to Macdonnell Ranges, and on to Oodnadatta, and would not connect with the railway system of Queensland by building 150 miles of railway from Alroy Station to Camooweal.


Mr Yates - No; I should start from Oodnadatta.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Would the honorable member not take the line to Camooweal at all ?


Mr Yates - If it were profitable I should; but I would not leave Oodnadatta out altogether.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not see, if funds are available, why the line should not commence at Oodnadatta, Camooweal, and at Katherine River, too; I should have no objection. It must be remembered that beyond Macdonnell

Ranges trade is not likely to come south, hut must go north, except, perhaps, in the -case of cattle and other stock. I think that the bombardment of those who are willing to assist this great railway project ought to earn for the honorable members who carry it on discredit, and not praise, in their own State of South Australia. The honorable member for Grey has been attempting to make some capital by pointing out that I had not the concurrence of my colleague, the honorable member for Angas, at the time he mentioned, but was acting against his advice. Let me tell the honorable member that, unlike himself, I do not regard this as a -.parochial matter, the whole end and object of which is to have a large expenditure in South Australia, but as a great national project. I know enough of the practice of Ministers to be able to say that any member of a Government, even if he be not the Treasurer, has a perfect right :to approach the Prime Minister on any subject of national importance, unrestricted by the fact that the project may be situated in territory under the control of another Minister. It is a privilege of Ministers to be able to go to the Prime Minister direct, if they wish to communicate with him on any subject of national interest.


Mr Poynton - Without consulting the Minister in whose Department the matter as?


Sir JOHN FORREST - Certainly , without consulting anybody.


Mr Poynton - That is your idea of loyalty !


Mr Yates - The Minister rebuked the honorable member for Swan in his letter.


Sir JOHN FORREST - That letter I never saw. Honorable members know very well that if there is a man whom I would go a long way out of my way to serve, and to whom I would avoid saying anything unkind, or likely to give offence or hurt his feelings, it is the honorable member for Angas. I had charge of the finances, and I saw that an immense amount of money was being spent without return ; and I desired to see what could be done under the circumstances. I have always placed at that honorable member's disposal, while we were colleagues, any experience or knowledge that I may possess; and I was at all times only too glad to consult with him, and did consult with him and with Dr. Gilruth, times out of number, in order to further the development of this immense Territory. This, as I have said before, is a great national question, far above departmental considerations.


Mr Webster - Involving millions!


Sir JOHN FORREST - Yes; and I have a perfect right - indeed, it is my duty - if I have anything to say, to freely communicate, verbally or by letter, with the Prime Minister. To be told that in doing so I have broken one of the canons of conduct as between Minister and Minister hurts me much, and especially so as the honorable member for Angas is an old, valued, and dear friend of mine. I fully appreciate the difficulties which confront the Government and the Minister in regard to the Territory. If we are to let daylight into that part of Australia, it must be by means of railways; and this work is of the utmost importance to the people of Australia. Of course, if we may judge by the progress of the east-west line, it will take years to carry out the project.


Mr Webster - It will not take long now that we have our own steel works.


Sir JOHN FORREST - In any case it will take a long time to carry the sleepers and rails from Port Augusta and Port Darwin; but I hope the connexion with Queensland will give us another avenue for transport.


Mr Archibald - We have -done much in twelve months on the east-west railway.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Not very much.


Mr Archibald - More than the honorable member's Government did in five years.


Sir JOHN FORREST - That is a reckless, unfair statement, which is not based on fact. When were we in office for five years?


Mr Archibald - Taking your record for a year, that is about the rate of progress.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Much could be said about the slow progress on the east- west line, but I hope there will be an improvement in this respect byandby. However, the Government have now in hand this railway project for the Northern Territory; and if they propose to commence at once from Oodnadatta northwards, they shall have my help. I shall protest strongly, however, if they do not also do their utmost to induce the Government of Queensland to build the 150 miles of railway from Cloncurry to Camooweal, as the quickest way of getting into the Territory from the port of Townsville.


Mr Sharpe - It will be all right now that there is a new Government in Queensland !


Sir JOHN FORREST - I think that any Government should agree that that is the better and most reasonable course, with advantages to all concerned. I realize that the Government are face to face with a great difficulty, and the sooner they make up their minds the better. I feel certain that they will come to the same conclusion that the late Government came to; and if they do, I shall do my best to help them.







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