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Thursday, 10 June 1915

Mr JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) . - I hope, Mr. Chairman, that you do not suggest that the matter of the survey cannot be discussed because no sum is proposed to be voted this year. There is in the Estimates the item, " Railway Survey from Oodnadatta to the Katherine."

Mr Page - For that nothing is provided.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - That is the trouble. Surely we shall be in order in calling attention to the fact?

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member will be in order in doing that.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - That is what I understood the honorable member for Adelaide wished to do. The Minister should tell us why nothing is proposed to be spent this year. Evidently this gaping blank speaks eloquently of the Government's policy for the development of the Northern Territory by railway construction. What does the honorable member for Grey think of this?

Mr Mahon - On page 165 the right honorable member will find that there is proposed to be voted for " lands and surveys," £28,569; and "railways," £185,157.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Last year we voted for "lands and surveys" £27,000, of which £19,000 was spent.

Mr Mahon - The item to which I draw attention may explain the blank about which the right honorable member was speaking.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - If the item to which the honorable member draws attention is to provide for surveys and other work in connexion with the east-west railway, as well as the Northern Territory railways, one or other must be neglected, because the sum set down is about the same as was voted last year.

Mr Mahon - Only £19,000 was spent last year.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Probably not more will be spent this year ; but the provision last year was over and above that set down for the survey from Oodnadatta to the Katherine, for which no provision is made this year. I should think that it is urgently necessary to push on with the investigation of routes for railway extension in the Northern Territory. We have been told that this, that, and the other railway is needed.

Mr Richard Foster - Was there not a contract let for a survey?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - There was.

Mr Page - And did you not knock it off the Estimates?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - No; the present Government have knocked it off.

Mr Page - What did you do with it?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - The party opposite have knocked it off and knocked it down.

Mr Page - No; alone you did it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - My honorable friend, or any member of his party, may complain as much as he likes, but this blank line is a thing which he cannot get over. My attention has just been called to a resolution arrived at by the Labour Conference the other day on this very question, and it is appropriate, I think, that I should read it to the Committee -

That the agreement between the Commonwealth and the South Australian Governments to connect Oodnadatta and Pine Creek by railway should be given effect to without unnecessary delay. " Without unnecessary delay," yet my honorable friends opposite proceed by creating a blank. They proceed by proposing not one copper for the survey of this most important route. Here is a specimen of what they are always doing, holding out the burly at all their conferences to this section of the community and to that section, but the moment they got away from the conference, doing nothing with practical projects.

Mr Page - What does it matter so long as you vote for it?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Give me something to vote on. I am anxious to. see this railway policy develop, hut what can I do with a blank ? There is no money provided for the line.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Now that the Conference has spoken, the Supplementary Estimates will contain an item.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - No money at all is to be voted for this most important railway project.

That reminds me that the honorable member said the other night that a good many of these railway projects had had to be knocked on the head because of the war. I would like to know what reason there is in the war for abolishing or postponing these projects, or doing anything but pushing them forward with the utmost possible energy and determination. If ever there was a time when these railway projects could be gone on with at full speed, and as many men as possible pressed into their service, it is now, when we are supposed to have an unemployed problem on our hands. While we are able to give to the States tens of millions for State railway projects, the Minister tells us that we are hanging our own up because of that same war. I think that if ever there was a time when we ought not to hang up these projects it is during this war time when there is no lack of money. We are told that on every hand. My honorable friends are increasing their note issue every day. It is now up to £33,000,000, and their gold reserve is down to 30 per cent., yet they have not the money for a railway which has been declared to be urgent by Lord Kitchener, and one which my honorable friends are talking about on almost every platform in the country.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - Why did you not start the line when you were in office? Why did you not do something?

Mr Pigott - We did.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Why did we not do everything under the sun in fifteen months? All that I have to say to the honorable member for Denison is that we did get a " move on " with that particular line. We passed a Survey Bill, and, I believe, let a contract for a survey, and now my honorable friends opposite carry it on by not providing a shilling for it. They have stopped the work where we left it - that is the thing I am complaining of - and the only excuse they have to offer is that there is a war. I venture to say that the war has not hurt us so far as our finances are concerned. My honorable friends got all the money they wanted - a little more than usual - from the Imperial Exchequer, so that the war has not hurt our finances in this direction. It may have curtailed their efforts in others, but certainly not in this. If ever there was a time when unemployment is urgent and clamant, and these railway projects should be proceeded with at the earliest moment, and with the utmost despatch, it is now.

Mr Archibald - Who is delaying them?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Who is?

Mr Archibald - You are delaying them by not allowing the Estimates to go through.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - We are delaying Estimates which do not provide a penny for a line ! Are we ?

Mr Archibald - You would take the Estimates for Noah's Ark and discuss them.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - If we did turn up Noah's Ark we would find the honorable member there. I guarantee that no one ever saw a pictorial representation of Noah's Ark who did not see that face and form. Anyhow, sir, it was a Noah's Ark interjection, for I do not think that anybody would be foolish enough, even in Noah's Ark, to expect a Government to build railways without money. I believe that somewhere in those ancient times, the Egyptians were set the task of making bricks without straw, and here is a modern repetition of it.

Mr Mahon - This railway you are complaining of is finished.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - From Oodnadatta to Katherine River?

Mr Mahon - So it appears.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Who says so?

Mr Mahon - I have a statement here.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - The whole line from Oodnadatta to Katherine River !

Mr Mahon - The survey is done.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - That makes the matter only the more interesting. If the. work is finished, it must have been finished before the present Government took office. Here are their Estimates framed ten months ago, and not a penny is proposed for the work. If the survey is finished, what is wrong with the line? Why has not a sleeper been put down? Why has not a rail been put down ? Here is a further condemnation of the honorable member's inept administration.

Mr Mahon - I have a very interesting telegram to read as soon as you have finished.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I would like to hear an interesting telegram.

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