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Wednesday, 12 September 1906

Senator FINDLEY - That is so, but the vote was carried with but very slight opposition, and it was a vote for the purchase of a trawler to. be used in exploring the coastal waters of Australia with a view to discovering where fish are to be caught in payable quantities in order that the information may be handed over to private enterprise for its use.

Senator Turley - Those who swallowed that vote can do the same with this.

Senator FINDLEY - There is not the same excuse for the opposition to this measure. It is said by those opposed to the Bill that if it is passed it will bind i--er« one supporting it to the construction of the line. It will not bind me.

Senator Croft - It will not bind even the honorable senators from Western Australia.

Senator Turley - Some advocates of the measure have been straightforward enough to say that they will be bound to the construction of the line.

Senator FINDLEY - That may be their opinion, and they may have reasons for supporting the construction of the line which I have not. I have no hesitation in supporting the Bill which will involve an expenditure of £20,000 spread over the whole of the States, and which will commit us to nothing further.

Senator de Largie - Unless the report of the surveyors justifies it.

Senator FINDLEY - Unless their report justifies it. If we are to free our minds from prejudice we should remember that two or three years ago a desire was expressed in this Parliament for full information on the subject of the proposed railway, and in order that it might be secured highly competent men in the persons of the engineers-in-chief of the various States were appointed to exhaustively consider the question. I consider that their report was a very favorable one indeed.

Senator Turley - They declined to recommend the construction of the line.

Senator FINDLEY - I do not think so. They considered the probable' cost of construction, the cost of maintenance, receipts and expenditure, and, so far as my memory serves me, they justified the construction of the line at. an expenditure of £4,500,000. Thev estimated that the probable deficiency from the working of the line for the first year would be £68,106, but they stated that after the first vear the loss would be gradually reduced, and that at the close of a decade there would be a profit over and above working expenses of £18,219.

Senator Guthrie - There was a big assumption in that estimate, namely, that the population of Western Australia would double itself in the ten years.

Senator Pearce - It increased six-fold in sixteen years.

Senator FINDLEY - It seems only yesterday when that State was a Crown Colony with only a handful of people.

Senator Pearce - Sixteen years ago the population was 45,000.

Senator FINDLEY - And to-day the population is 263,000. If sixteen years ago people had objected to the construction of waterworks in Western Australia because of the scanty population, and some one had urged that in ten years' time the population would be doubled, that would have been considered a foolish prediction. I find that, in paragraph 8 of their report; dated 27th July, 1903, the Engineers-in-Chief say -

On the assumption that the population of Western Australia will be doubled in ten years from the opening of the line, we think that it would be right to anticipate a doubling of the revenue. An investigation of the statistics of Western Australia indicates how rapid has been the progress in every direction.

Speaking of the movement of population between the eastern and western States, they say -

That this movement will be encouraged by the additional facilities of railway communication cannot be doubted, and the bringing of the eastern goldfields of Western Australia and Adelaide into nearer connexion must result in an increasing passenger traffic. Reference to the monthly Statistical Abstract of January, I()03 published in Western Australia, will show that during the period from 1894 to 1902, the population increased approximately two and a half times. The general revenue increased five times, the railway revenue eleven times, post and telegraph receipts five times, savings bank deposits three and a half times, tonnage of shipping two and a half times, value of imports four and a third times, value of exports seven times. The export of gold increased nine times in seven years, and was 1,871,083 fine ounces in 1902.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - The line will tap the Tarcoola gold belt in South Australia.

Senator Guthrie - It may or may not.

Senator FINDLEY - It is because we really do not know what the future developments along the route of the proposed railway are likely to be that we desire the information which can be secured by the survey. The argument is used that because this will be a non-payable line it should not be constructed. I say fearlessly that if that reasoning had been adopted in connexion with every line constructed throughout Australia, there "would have been little or no development in any part of the Continent. Looking at the matter from the people's and the collectivists' point of view, I say that these national undertakings should not be judged as money-making concerns. When people ask what are our assets we refer them to our railways. It may be said that some of them are non-payable concerns, and, therefore, are not assets. But roads and bridges are non-productive public works, unpayable assets, and yet no one would say that the maintenance and construction of roads and bridges should be handed over to private enterprise, and should not be undertaken at all, because they yield no direct return. If it were shown that the proposed line would be a payable concern there would still be some objection raised against its construction, and even against the survey asked for by this Bill. Opponents of the measure say that the country through which the proposed line will go is a waterless waste and desert, in which a blackfellow cannot exist. But it is forgotten that worse things were said about the mallee country, which covers onefourth of the area of Victoria, only a little more than twenty years ago. Honorable senators have emphasized a number of quotations which they have made from reports, and have used them as reasons why this survey should not be made. At one time - and it is not very long ago - the only inhabitants of the Mallee country were wild dogs and rabbits, for there was stunted vegetation, and very little herbage. A Land Commission appointed ip! 1878 reported in the following terms on the Mallee country : -

The mallee country occupies the north-west corner of Victoria. Its base reaches for 180 miles along the Murray River, 150 miles down the South Australian border, and 150 miles north-east to the commencing point at Swan Hill. The area is about twelve millions of acres. "Upon this grows the mallee, a dwarf gum tree, interspersed with Murray pine, stunted saltbush, wild hop, porcupine grass, broom, and hop. It is mainly a rainless and waterless region. In some places the mallee trees grow as close together as a hedge ; in other places more open, there grow various kinds of salt bushes, dwarf cotton bush, hop and spinifex. Travelling through the centre of the mallee, the region is a wilderness in the strict sense of the term, not a living creature except the rabbits to be seen, and not a solitary bird.

Surveying the mallee country as a whole, it may be properly described as a vast wilderness, dotted throughout with small specks of , what appears to be good land set in a framework of undoubtedly good soil. Population may gradually encroach upon if from its northern or river side, likewise from its south and south-eastern border. Above all, an extensive artificial water supply must be provided 'before the mallee can become the seat of even a sparsely settled community. The exterior border of the mallee scrub, as already pointed out, on the southeastern and eastern side, and also on the river frontage, possesses a soil suited to cultivation; and selection, with a view to agriculture, should be allowed to go on there as in other parts of the country. But the interior must be devoted to pastoral occupation.

That is a much more unfavorable report than any report which has been submitted in regard to the country through which the proposed railway is intended to go; and to-day, after a period of less than twentyfive years,, the Mallee country, instead of being inhabited by dingoes and rabbits, is occupied by thousands of persons permanently and well settled, and is a valuable asset. In addition to that, it has provided employment for thousands of persons. I do not say that the country in

Western Australia or that part of South Australia through which the proposed railway would probably go, would turn out as profitable, because time alone would determine that. I believe that, if the people of the Commonwealth were polled tomorrow the great bulk of them would unhesitatingly vote for this Bill.

Senator Turley - A majority of the senators for Victoria are against the Bill, consequently they do not know the feeling of their own State.

Senator FINDLEY - When I was seeking the votes of the electors of Victoria less than three years ago, I was asked at several places whether I was in favour of the construction of the transcontinental railway. It would have been very convenient for me to say, "I am opposed to it" because the newspapers were against it. But at all times' I said to my auditors, " I am not sufficiently acquainted with the nature of the country which the proposed railwayis to traverse, or supplied with information as to the probable cost of construction and estimated receipts and expenditure to be able to answer the question. I would favour the appointment of a Commonwealth Commission, composed of experts, and on the presentation of their report, I would then be in a position to express an open opinion, and give a conscientious and fair vote." Because I wanted fuller information, I told the people that I would not commit myself to declaring whether I was favorable or unfavorable to the project. 1 have no hesitation in saying that the people of Victoria are not seriously concerned about the expenditure which is proposed in connexion with the Bill. What would be the cost to Victoria?' It would be a very small sum indeed. We have at the head of the Government a gentleman who, on behalf of Victoria, did promise the people of Western Australia that the line would be constructed and representative gentlemen from other States did likewise. Because they occupy high and responsible positions, it may be said in a measure that they spoke on behalf of the people of their States.

Senator Millen - Mr. Deakin said that personally be believed in the construction of the line. He was very careful to safeguard his State in that way.

Senator FINDLEY - I have been trying to point out that the people of Victoria have so much confidence in Mr. Deakin that they elected him to a seat in the House of Representatives, where he is the head of a Government. His word would be taken more seriously, and he would consider every word that he addressed to the people of Western Australia, not so much from his point of view, as from the standpoint of committing the people of Victoria. It ought not to be overlooked that every Government which has occupied the Treasury Bench in another place has advocated a survey of the line.

Senator Dobson - For reasons which are very apparent.

Senator FINDLEY - I should like to know what the apparent reasons are?

Senator Turley - That is what we want to know.

Senator FINDLEY - Is the fact that there is a representative of Western Australia in the Government an apparent reason ?

Senator Millen - And a few Western Australian votes outside the Government.

Senator FINDLEY - One would really think that Western Australia was not a State of the Commonwealth. What direct advantage could the construction of the railway be to that State as against every other State? The population of Western Australia is composed mainly of what are called " 'tother-siders." It is not the real Western Australian who is the most "out-and-out" advocate of this project, but the men and women who have come from other States.

Senator Dobson - How does the honorable senator know that?

Senator FINDLEY - I know it too well.

Senator Dobson - The honorable senator might as well say that the men in the moon are in favour of the project.

Senator FINDLEY - No one regretted more than I did to-day that Senator Styles should try to belittle Western Australia, because at a period in the history of Victoria, quite apart from the financial crisis which overtook us, there was very great depression, and every avenue of employment was closed-

Senator Dobson - Admitting it all, what has that to do with the question?

Senator FINDLEY - I was endeavouring to show that from Victoria many thousands of persons who were in idleness made their way to Western Australia, obtained work there, and were able to send money to their wives and relatives here. I do not desire to labour this question. I have made 'up my mind that I can conscientiously vote for the Bill, feeling that it is a righteous thing to do, that the money will not be grudged by" the different States, and that if a favorable report be submitted to the Parliament, the construction of the line will be determined upon at no distant date. We must not look at the proposal merely from a sordid point of view. If we were to look at every undertaking from that stand-point, the nation would make very little progress. I take a higher view than that. It is because I believe that the main argument against the Bill - that the consent of South Australia has not been obtained - is a mere subterfuge, that I want to see a division taken on the Bill on its merits.

Senator Dobson - The honorable senator might as well say that the Constitution is a subterfuge when it does not suit him.

Senator FINDLEY - What has the Constitution to do with the Bill?

Senator Dobson - Only that it says that the consent of a State shall be necessary.

Senator Playford - To make a railway, but not a survey.

Senator FINDLEY - If Senator Dobson were Premier of Tasmania, and its com sent were desired, as thatof South Australia is desired, would he be so foolish as to commit the State until he knew exactly, what the survey was likely to prove?

Senator Dobson - Then we shall be foolish enough to vote £20,000 without knowing whether South Australia is going to consent or not.

Senator FINDLEY - The mind of the people of South Australia to-day is no different from what it was when Sir Frederick Holder committed the State when his opinion was sought in regard to the project.

Senator Dobson - How does the honorable senator know that ?

Senator FINDLEY - Because I have a letter here.

Senator Dobson - Oh ! one letter.

Senator FINDLEY - How many letters does the honorable senator want?

Senator Dobson - I want a referendum.

Senator FINDLEY - I believe that if a referendum of the people were taken, the honorable senator would find that they were of a different turn of mind from himself in regard to the Bill.

Senator Millen - Then the honorable senator can admire our moral courage in opposing the Bill.

Senator FINDLEY - I do not know about the moral courage. Sir Frederick Holder's letter has been read before; but I propose to. read it again.

Senator Millen - Will the honorable senator try to square that letter with his statement that the mind of South Australia is the same to-day as it was when it was written ?

Senator FINDLEY - I shall endeavour to do that, because at the head of affairs in South Australia there is a fair-min3ed man in the person of Mr. Thomas Price, a Labour man. Sir Frederick Holder wrote to the Premier of Western Australia as follows : -

To assure you of our attitude in the matter, I will undertake, as soon as the Federation is established, Western Australia and South Australia both being States of the Commonwealth, to introduce- a Bill formally giving the assent of this Province to the construction of the line by the Federal authority, and to pass it stage by stage simultaneously with the passage of a similar Bill in your Parliament.

Senator Givens - Did he do that?

Senator FINDLEY - How could he do it? Anyhow, Sir Frederick Holder, at the time I have stated, did give a promise to the people of Western Australia, and to the Parliament of that State, that such a Bill would be introduced by him and carried through. I do not desire to say anything further. Whether the numbers are up or not, my mind is made up. There is no doubt, in my opinion, that those who vote in favour of the Bill will be acting not only in the interests of Western Australia, but of the Commonwealth, and for the advancement of its citizens.

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