Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 12 September 1906

Senator HENDERSON (Western Australia) . - There is wonderful unanimity amongst honorable senators as to the ultimate necessity for the construction of a railway between western and eastern Australia. Yet each honorable senator seems to be only too ready to evade the fact that some practical steps are absolutely necessary before even a start with the construction of such a railway can be made. This Bill may be regarded as an initial step - that is to say, it is a Bill to provide that there shall be a survey over a certain territory with the object of doing a certain thing. When this or a similar Bill was before the Senate on a previous occasion the cry was raised by those honorable senators who so fluently to-day recognised the ultimate necessity of this line, that we had not sufficient information on which to take any step whatever. Since then we have had several reports from which I do not propose to quote. We have had reports from engineers and from several other unimportant, and more or less important, individuals, and we have also had the extraordinary and inordinately exaggerated statements of our friend, Senator Styles. All this shows that there must be a great deal of confusion in the minds of honorable sena- tors as to the country in regard to which it is proposed to seek information.

In the first place, I say, in answer to Senator Styles, that, as a Western Australian, I protest against the imputation which he hurled at the Government of Western Australia in speaking on this question to-day. We can understand that, in the heat of debate, a man will sometimes make extraordinary statements ; but it is inexcusable for an honorable senator who is dealing with a question which he professes to understand, and one to which he has given a great deal of thought, to make statements which he must know are grossly inaccurate, and absolutely injurious to the people about whom they are made. I wish to refer to the honorable senator's criticism of the Federal spirit, as manifested in the action of Western Australia in sending a lecturer to Victoria to induce Victorian farmers to leave this State, and proceed to Western Australia to open up that country. Senator Styles must have known when he made that statement that it was grossly unfair, altogether inaccurate, and that there could not possibly be a more honest mission conducted by any man in any of the States of Australia than that conducted by the agent empowered by the Western Australian Government to lay before the people of Australia the true state of that country. On every occasion on which that agent entered upon a discourse he made it clear to the audience he addressed in the eastern States what the object of his mission was. He said, " I have no desire, nor am I commissioned, to encourage, or for a moment to propose that you should leave your own State to go to Western Australia, and accept the inducements for land settlement offered there. But, seeing that people are leaving Victoria, that farmers and farmers' sons are leaving this State for New Zealand, South Africa, and elsewhere, because there is neither room nor bread for them in Victoria at the present time, I wish to impress upon you the fact that, rather than leave Australia, it is desirable that you should look for yourselves at what we have to offer you in Western Australia."

Senator Styles - Dot* that apply to New South Wales as well?

Senator HENDERSON - It applies to every place at which the agent of Western Australia delivered an address. I venture to say that he never on any occasion attempted to do the mean despicable things of which Senator Styles' imputation would accuse him.

Senator Styles - Did he wish to prevent people from leaving New South Wales ? :

Senator HENDERSON - He wished to prevent people leaving Australia. That was the whole object of his mission. Men accustomed to land settlement and to farming were leaving Victoria in hundreds.

Senator Styles - Were such people leaving New South Wales also?

Senator HENDERSON - People were leaving New South Wales also, but we know for a fact that they were leaving Victoria. At the same time we had a large country ready to receive them, and were offering inducements sufficiently good to warrant them 'in giving it a trial.

Senator Styles - It was a very philanthropic act on the part of Western Australia.

Senator HENDERSON - The mission of the agent of Western Australia was one of business, and if Senator Styles viewed it with an unprejudiced mind and a clear vision, having regard to the interests of Australia, he would admit that it was as honest and as noble a mission as any man could undertake.

Senator Styles - I should object to any man going from Victoria to Western Australia to induce settlers in that State to come here.

Senator HENDERSON - The honorable senator would do nothing, of the kind. Men are going on similar missions from Victoria to Western Australia every day. There are commercial travellers and agents of one kind and another travelling in Western Australia with Victorian goods. What are they there for? They are there in the. effort to do honest business. What else are they trying to do? If Western Australia does not produce the goods these Victorian agents have to sell, she, at least, has land at her disposal ready for the production of the fruits of toil, and she simply says to the toilers, " If there is no place in Victoria for you to put your spade in, come here, and put it in here, and receive the fruits of your toil."

Senator Styles - There is plenty of room in New South Wales, and the Western Australian agent has been lecturing there also.

Senator HENDERSON - There is not plenty of room in Victoria. It is all very well for the honorable senator to drag in New South Wales, but I can tell him that the agent of Western Australia put his case in New South Wales as clearly and as honestly as he did in Victoria.

Senator Styles - No one ever heard of such a thing being done before.

Senator HENDERSON - What really is the honorable senator's trouble? He opposes this Bill because he is absolutely afraid that if it is passed the whole of the little fallacy on which he and the Age have lived and gloried for years will be exposed in one act. He is afraid that it will be realized that Senator Styles, of desert railway fame, has absolutely missed his mark, and that the Age, which for so long has held up this country of Western Australia as a barren desert, has entirely failed to prove its case.

Senator Styles - And the Argus also.

Senator HENDERSON - The honorable senator is afraid that it will be shown conclusively that spleen, prejudice, and every feeling that is opposed to the Federal spirit, and to the continuance of the Federation itself has been indulged in by both the Age and Senator Styles, in order, without the slightest information, to vilify this country. There are two essential matters which should be kept in mind in this debate, although they have been ignored by every opponent of the measure who has spoken. We say, first of all, that this Bill provides for no more than a survey of the route of the proposed railway - a mere search for information which it is essential we should have before any such thing as a proposition for the construction, of the tail way can be submitted.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator would not accept the survey as a redemption of the promise, which, he says, led Western Australia to enter the Union?

Senator HENDERSON - I wish Senator Millen to understand that I am here today as one who, in Western Australia, opposed that State entering the Federation, and also as one who is to-day purely Federal in spirit. I am as anxious as is any member of the Senate to obtain the infor"mation sought for by the means proposed in this Bill. When that information has been obtained, I shall be prepared conscientiously to reason out the propriety or otherwise of entering at the present time upon such a huge scheme as the construction of the proposed railway will certainly be. I do not view the matter with the narrow-mindedness of parochialism, or with any idea that if the Bill goes through South Australia and Western Australia will be invested with some little halo. I regard the .Bill in the light in which .Senator Symon, who cannot be accused of being an enthusiastic supporter of anything connected with Western Australia, regarded it.

Senator de Largie - He was in preFederal days.

Senator HENDERSON - When on a previous occasion that honorable and learned senator introduced a similar Bill, he struck the keynote of the position. Referring to the measure he submitted, the honorable senator said -

It does not mean the construction of the line. I wish that to be perfectly clear, so that honorable senators may not be led away into arriving at a wrong conclusion by any mistaken impression sf that kind. The Bill does not commit, and is not intended to commit, the Senate or this Parliament collectively or individually to the construction of a transcontinental railway connecting South Australia with Western Australia.

Our contention from the outset has been that this Bill is merely a Bill for a survey, to show by demonstration whether the proposed line would be a reasonable project for the Federal Government to enter upon in the near future. If it is shown to be a project which the Commonwealth might take in hand, there can be no reason why that course should not be adopted. The proposed line would bind Western Australia to the eastern States, and if the project were shown to be one which would be beneficial commercially or in any other respect, I do not see why it should not receive the consideration due to it. There is another point to be considered, and I have always regarded these two points as most essential in the discussion of this measure. First of all, it is proposed, in order to secure information - to show the nature of the country and the probable cost of constructing the railway. Some honorable senators have tried to make out that if the survey should justify the construction of the line, it would cost from £8,000,000 to £18,000,000. In his speech, Senator O'Keefe furnished excellent proof of the unsoundness of that argument. He proved verv clearly that there is substantial reason for believing that those honorable senators have merely spoken of Western Australia as they usually do, and that is very wildly. My honorable friend went to the trouble of quoting from Coghlan the mileage rates at which the railways of the States have been constructed. After going very carefully into the subject, he discovered that, so far, Western Australia has constructed her railways at a cost of £5,812 per mile, or at considerably less than the mileage rate in any other State.

Senator O'Keefe - A - At that rate, the cost of the transcontinental railway would come to about £5,000,000.

Senator HENDERSON - What the honorable senator has really shown is, not that there is a reason why this Bill should not be passed, but that those who, like Senator Styles and, I think, Senator Mulcahy, have stated that the railway, would cost any sum from £8,000,000 to £18,000,000 are wrong.

Senator Styles - I do not think that any one has said that it would cost £18,000,000.

Senator HENDERSON - I do not know where my honorable friend would stop, because he has made all sorts cf exaggerated statements concerning the project.

Senator O'Keefe - M - Mine was a fair statement.

Senator HENDERSON - It was a fair statement, and went to show that even the estimate of £5,000,000 might also be a little excessive. We want a survey made in order to find out whether it would be a costly railway to construct.

Senator Styles - At £5,812 per mile, it would cost £3,360,000 to build the railway on a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge.

Senator HENDERSON - I am not pledged to the honorable senator's estimate.

Senator Styles - It is not my estimate, but the honorable senator's.

Senator HENDERSON - No ; I merely quoted Senator O'Keefe's statement. He has shown the necessity for collecting information, rather than a substantial reason why the Bill should be rejected. In another part of his speech, he went on to do as Senator Dobson did twelve months ago, only that he picked up a different thread. When the Bill was being discussed on a previous occasion, Senator Dobson clearly showed that the reason why Tasmania was opposed to the railway was because there was no possible hope of building a railway across Bass Strait. On this occasion, Senator O'Keefe has come forward with a different proposition. He has said, in effect, " If the senators from Western Australia would first of all agree to distribute the whole of the revenue on a per capita basis, they would find that the members of the Senate would consider their case with different minds."

Senator O'Keefe - Y - Yes; but the honorable senator did not develop the argument about the figures quite sufficiently'.

Senator HENDERSON - I have dealt with the figures so far as I wish to do so for the time being.

Senator O'Keefe - I - I quoted the cost of her lines in order to show that Western Australia is in a better position than any other State with regard to railway construction, and, therefore, should build her own railways.

Senator HENDERSON - I have not the slightest objection to what the honorable senator has stated. .Surely the cost of this survey is not to involve the splashing of Western Australia's revenue amongst the smaller States.

Senator Pearce - To the extent of halfamillion.

Senator HENDERSON - Apparently, £500,000 of Western Australia's revenue per annum is all that Senator O'Keefe asks for his vote to make Tasmania contribute the paltry sum of £900 towards the "cost of survey.

Senator Trenwith - Tasmania would n°t get £500,000.

Senator HENDERSON - No ; but Tasmania would get more than £900.

Senator Styles - What would Western Australia contribute towards the cost of the. survey - £1,250 ?

Senator HENDERSON - That is a %'ery fair share of the cost. I did not propose . to refer to the feeling of the people of Western Australia on this question; but now that it has been raised I cannot help stating that the State was deluded into entering the Federation. I do not care who were responsible for the origination of the inducement. As one who was opposed to Western Australia entering the Union, I listened to the advocates of the Constitution Bill, and heard them from every platform holding out this inducement to the people.

Senator Millen - A survey or a railway ?

Senator HENDERSON - A railway.

Senator Millen - Will the honorable senator accept a survey in redemption of the promise, which was for a railway?

Senator HENDERSON - I am accepting the survey offered.

Senator Trenwith - What Senator Millen wants to know is whether the honorable senator would be satisfied with a survey.

Senator HENDERSON - Does my honorable friend dream for a moment that I am so blind as not to see what he is driving at ? If the survey should prove that it would be a mad undertaking to construct the railway, I should be one of the first to rise here and record my vote against the Commonwealth incurring any expenditure in that direction. My honorable friends should keep in mind the fact that our defence system will continue to be incomplete whilst the isolation that Western Australia now suffers remains. Let me quote another passage from the speech of Senator Symon, when introducing the Bill, to show that he also entertained that view. He said -

Western Australia is a part of the Commonwealth, and is at present largely isolated from the rest of the Commonwealth. Quite apart from the question whether this large amount of money should be raised for the purpose of its construction, no one can deny that Western Australia may, on broad Federal grounds, apart from selfish motives, legitimately advocate the railway, and legitimately push any steps she may think desirable in that direction. I go further. I say the time must come when this iron road between Port Augusta and the nearest point of railway construction in Western Australia will be constructed, and will be a symbol of that union which, although I am not in favour of the immediate construction of the line, I freely admit is to a certain extent incomplete without it.

That shows clearly that even Senator Symon had before his mind the inducement which was held out to the people of Western Australia to join the Union, and also that he recognised the mere sham of the so-called Union, while Western Australia remained practically as isolated as if her territory were divided from the eastern States bv a sea a thousand miles wide. I hope that honorable senators will keep before their minds the fact that this Bill seeks to furnish us with what has been asked for by so many. In the interests of the Union, and with the idea of showing something like a Federal capacity for dealing with Federal matters, I hope that the measure will be passed.

Suggest corrections