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Wednesday, 12 September 1906

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I now desire to move, under standing order 188 -

That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.

The standing order under which I take this action provides that -

After the second reading, unless it be moved " That this Bill be referred to a Select Committee," or unless notice of an instruction has been given, the Senate shall forthwith resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole for the consideration of the Bill.

That indicates the opportunity on which a motion that a Bill be referred to a Select Committee shall be submitted. We have listened during the major portion of today, and during the major portion of several days previously, to many speeches in support of the contention that the proposed railway should be constructed. It seems to me to be necessary that some inquiry should be made as to whether those statements have substance in them or not. Personally, I think that many of them are lacking in any foundation. It seems to me, therefore, to be desirable that we should have a preliminary inquiry to ascertain whether the expenditure which the survey would render necessary should be authorized. Another reason why further inquiry should be decided upon is that, by a very narrow majority, the Senate has agreed to the second reading of the Bill.

Senator Playford - Last year there was a narrow majority in the other direction.

Senator MILLEN - Between then and now the supporters of the Bill have converted an equality of votes into a majority. I need not ask how that majority has been arrived at. It consists of the solitary vote of a Minister who hitherto has led the Senate to believe that he was an opponent of the Bill. I think I am speaking correctly, judging from the only action by which I believe the Minister has disclosed the bent of his mind with regard to the Bill, which was, by wav of interjection-

Senator de Largie - This is a Ministerial Bill.

Senator MILLEN - Senator deLargie is welcome to anv comfort which he can derive from the contention that if this is a Ministerial Bill, therefore a Minister who does not believe in it is bound to support it. I should prefer to believe that Senator Keating has been swayed by the powerful arguments to which he has not listened to-day ; because otherwise it seems to me impossible to conceive that a Minister, without any explanation to the Senate of a change of attitude, should suddenly be found departing from the ranks of the opponents of the measure,and joining the ranks of its supporters. The smallness of the majority, and the fact that that majority has been brought about by the remarkably sudden conversion of a Minister, does seem to me to afford a reason for asking the Senate to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the whole matter before we commit the Commonwealth to an expenditure of £20,000. It will be said that £20,000 is a trivial amount. I admit at once that, so far as the Commonwealth is concerned, the expenditure of such a sum is not of very great moment. But there is something else involved, and that is the question whether what is proposed to be undertaken is a Federal obligation at all. Honorable senators who have supported the Bill have all along acted on the assumption that there is a Federal aspect to the question, and that all we had to do was to" affirm whether we were justified in making the railway. All these are matters which the Committee will be able to investigate with deliberation and with a consumption of time that it is not possible for the Senate to devote to it. If my motion is carried; it will be incumbent upon me either to ask that the Committee be appointed by ballot, or to nominate the Committee bv a subsequent motion.

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