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Wednesday, 12 September 1906

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) . - I distinctly recollect that when the Bill was before us on a previous occasion its advocates welcomed the suggestion to appoint a Select Committee.

Senator de Largie - Nothing of the kind !

Senator Croft - The motion for a Select Committee was moved by Senator Neild, who is an opponent of the Bill.

Senator GIVENS - At that time Senator Neild was not an opponent of the Bill.

Senator de Largie - Senator Neild was never anything but an opponent of the Bill.

Senator GIVENS - Senator Neild'was in favour of referring the Bill to a Select Committee, and I know of my own knowledge that that idea was favorably entertained by many honorable senators from Western Australia.

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator's statement is entirely erroneous.

Senator GIVENS - As a- matter of fact, my vote in favour of that course was solicited by1 an honorable senator from Western Australia. It is curious to find honorable senators, who formerly favoured a Select Committee, describing' the proposal to appoint a similar body this year as a subterfuge in order to shelve the Bill. Why was a similar proposal last year not described as a subterfuge?

Senator Pearce - That point was never discussed last vear.

Senator GIVENS - The Bill was fully discussed.

Senator Henderson - The proposal for a Select Committee was never discussed.

Senator Playford - I ask Senator Givens to let us get on with the business.

Senator GIVENS - I have sat silent all day, listening patiently to other people, and I object to being called to order by a Minister when I venture to make a few remarks at the close of a long debate.

Senator Playford - I do not call the honorable senator to order, but merely suggest that the question has been sufficiently debated.

Senator GIVENS - What right has the Minister to suggest that a question has been sufficiently debated? I am not pulling in the same boat as the Minister on this occasion, and yet he suggests that I should be foolish enough to allow him to get the nose of his boat in front. I intend to say why, in my opinion, this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. Throughout the debate to-day the opponents of the Bill have been taunted with the alleged fact that they are opposed to all inquiry. Who is opposed to inquiry now ?

Senator Playford - The survey would be an inquiry.

Senator GIVENS - I wish a Select Committee to be appointed to inquire, and report as to whether we are justified in passing the Bill.

Senator Walker - What time would a Select Committee have in which to report?

Senator GIVENS - So far as I can see, a Select Committee would have a considerable time in which to report. If we are to give due consideration to all the business on the notice-paper this session, it is not likely to end until Parliament expires by effluxion of time.

Senator Millen - Time was not of importance this afternoon, when the supporters of the Bill were talking against time.

Senator GIVENS - I do not fall in with the suggestion made by Senator Millen, because those in favour of the Bill were only doing their duty in speaking at full length, and, in any case, I think that in the time they occupied they were exceedingly reasonable. That, however, is no reason why I should be deprived of my right to address the Committee on the same subject. Many honorable senators, including myself, hold that it would be unconstitutional to pass this Bill at the present stage, seeing that we have no power to follow it up by any effective action. According to the Constitution, our power is limited to building a railway with the consent of the State or States through which that railway may pass.

Senator Henderson - We are not talk- . ing about building a railway, but only about making a survey.

Senator GIVENS - A survey is part and parcel of the building of a railway, just in the same way as the plans and specifications for this Parliament House were part of the construction of the building, and were included in the cost. One of the chief duties of a Select Committee would be to tell us whether we should be justified in undertaking the survey. If, as those who favour- the Bill tell us, it is not intended to at once follow up this survey by constructing the line, that in itself is the strongest argument possible against the Bill, because it pre-supposes a mere waste of money. This is not a Bill for exploration or for any other than the one purpose, namely, a survey for a railway. If it is not proposed to follow up the survey by the construction of the line at the present time, the Senate is not justified in proceeding further until we have a report from a Select Committee that there is a reasonable prospect of the line being built. That is an argument which should have some weight with honorable senators who - desire to safeguard the taxpayers' money. The Select Committee could also give us very useful information as to whether we should be justified in spending money on this project at the present time. According to the Constitution, we could not build the line now, because we have not the consent of South Australia. It is a common occurrence for mining investors to secure an option to purchase a mine for, it may be, £150,000 or £500,000, the option to extend over six months or- twelve months, during which time the intending purchaser has power to expend money in prospecting and exploring in order to see whether the enterprise is a desirable one. Would any investor be so foolish as to expend any money in exploring a mine unless he had the option of purchase? I contend that, in relation to this railway, we are in an exactly similar position. It is proposed that we should spend money in making a survey to see whether we would be justified in building a line ; and yet after the survey had been made we would not have the right to build one inch of railway, except, of course, in Western Australia.

Senator Millen - We have had a plain intimation that if the survey does not suit South Australia, that State will not consent to the construction of the line.

Senator Playford - A Select Committee could not furnish us with any information on that point.

Senator GIVENS - I have no hesitation in saying that the Minister of Defence would not pledge himself now that South Australia would give her consent. Another exceedingly important point into which a Select Committee could inquire is as to whether a line of this kind should be built only for the distance named in the Bill, or whether it should be extended further in order to make it a payable enterprise. My opinion is that if the line stops at Kalgoorlie it will never pay. The proposed line would run through 1,100 miles of country which is at present uninhabited. During the greater portion of its course the line would not be more than 100 miles from the coast. In very few instances would the distance from the coast be 150 miles, and in some places the distance would be no more than 40 miles. There is no other stretch of coast of this extent in Australia which has not been fully explored and almost fully occupied ; and when we consider that this is in a part of Australia where there should be a most temperate and genial climate, the fact that the land is unexplored and uninhabited is sufficient evidence that it is of very little use. And the fact that the country is uninhabited makes it almost impossible to expect the line to pay. There is in existence a line of railway right round from Rockhampton to Adelaide, and that line does not pay as a whole, although it serves the four chief cities of the Commonwealth, and along the whole route there are rising and prosperous towns. That line traverses some of the best country, and yet, taken as a whole, it does not pay; and that being so, is it reasonable to expect the proposed line to the West to be remunerative ? These are all matters on which a Select Committee might be able to furnish very valuable information. Another consideration is that sea carriage for goods and passengers is always cheaper than land carriage over any considerable distance. On the line from Rockhampton to Adelaide there are very few through passengers, excepting wealthy men and others whose time is exceedingly valuable, and the line has to rely on the traffic of the intermediate stations. Of course, there could be no such intermediate traffic on the proposed line; and, even if we got the whole of the trade of the Western Australian gold-fields, we must not forget that the Western Australian Government could take a particular course of action which would deprive us of that trade. This, again, would be an important matter for inquiry bv a Select Committee. For a long time on the gold-fields there was a strong agitation - so strong that it led to threatened separation from Western Australia - in favour of a line from Kalgoorlie to Esperance Bay.

Senator Styles - A survey was made, and Sir John Forrest introduced a Bill to take the line to Norseman.

Senator de Largie - That was not the cause of the separation movement at all.

Senator GIVENS - We know that the reason for the dissatisfaction that existed on the gold-fields of Western Australia was that the people there considered that thev were unjustly dealt with in having to go round bv Perth to get their supplies when they might have been brought by a shorter route. I venture to say that there is a considerable amount of dissatisfaction on those gold-fields on that account to-day. I point out that if we did what supporters of the measure desire, and the Commonwealth built the so-called transcontinental railway, there would be nothing to prevent Western Australia building a line from Esperance Bay to Kalgoorlie which would deprive the Commonwealth line of every particle of traffic with the exception of the mails. Some honorable senators appear to be disposed to dispute that statement, and if thev are, why should we not have a Select Committee to decide the question ?

Senator de Largie - We will not help the honorable senator in his win, tie, or wrangle. Can he not give in when he is fairly licked?

Senator Playford - Take your licking like a man !

Senator GIVENS - I do not know that -e Are beaten or " licked," as the Minister so elegantly puts it.

Senator Millen - The majority in favour of the Bill is not much to be proud of.

Senator GIVENS - No, it is not; and I remind honorable senators that a Bill does not become an Act until it has at least passed its third reading. It will be time, enough for the Minister of Defence to shout when he is out of the wood.

Senator Playford - If we are beaten at any time by one vote, we shall not make a howl about it.

Senator GIVENS - I consider it a reflection on the President to suggest that I have been making- such an unseemly noise that the Minister is entitled to describe it as a " howl." I have been exceedingly moderate and temperate in my remarks.

Senator Playford - I did not say that the honorable senator was howling, but that we should not howl if we were beaten.

Senator GIVENS - I hold the view that if the Commonwealth is to control the proposed line from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie we must also control any line from Kalgoorlie to Esperance Bay. That is a view which is held also by many people in Western Australia, and honorable senators from that State will not deny that it has been freely referred to in the press there, and has met with strong support. Many people in Western Australia will never be satisfied with a transcontinental, or other railway, unless it provides the shortest means of communication between Kalgoorlie and Esperance Bay. The large and important gold fields of Western Australia, which have practically built up the whole of the prosperity of the State, are entitled to the most expeditious and economical means of communication with the outside world. They should be provided with the cheapest means of getting the supplies they require, and of taking away the gold they have to export beyond sea. It is undeniable that a line from Esperance Bay to Kalgoorlie will immensely cheapen the cost of living in the latter place, because it would reduce the distance over which the gold-fields supplies have to be carried at the present time by about onehalf. It should not be forgotten that such a line would shorten the distance between the Western Australian gold-fields and the eastern States by at least two days' steam. These are questions which should be carefully considered before the Senate agrees to a proposal which will involve the subsequent expenditure of £5,000,000 on the construction of a railway. I hold - and I believe that if the Bill is referred to a Select Committee, my view will be confirmed - that a railway from Esperance Bay to Kalgoorlie would best serve the interests of the large population of the gold-fields of Western Australia since it would shorten the distance over which their supplies must be carried by rail by at least 120 miles, and the journey to the eastern States by two clays' steam. The Select Committee might be able to give information as to whether it would not be desirable for the Commonwealth in undertaking the construction of the proposed line, to secure the right to control any lines from Kalgoorlie to Esperance Bay, in view of the fact that such a line, if constructed by the State, would rob the transcontinental railway of all traffic. It is a matter of the greatest importance that the best line for defence purposes should be constructed. A Select Committee could investigate that aspect of the question in a way which the Senate cannot. The committee could examine military experts, and get their opinion as to the best line for defence purposes. Its advantage in the matter of defence is one of the strongest arguments put forward in favour of the proposed line. I do not think that it can be called a transcontinental line in any sense, because it would not go across the Continent, but would merely be a coast line between two States. On that account, in my view it would not be desirable to build such a line for defence purposes. That must be patent to any one who gives the matter a moment's consideration. The object of a line for defence purposes is to carry troops, supplies, and arms with expedition from one place to another, and in order that these purposes may be accomplished the line must be secure from interruption by a hostile force. The proposed line would go through a coastal district in some places less than 40 miles from the coast, and it would be 1,100 miles long. It would also traverse an uninhabited country, and it is clear that communication bv it might be interrupted at many points along its course. Should hostilities break out between Great Britain, or the Commonwealth and some foreign power, and a raid be made on Western Australia, as has been suggested, what would there be to prevent the enemy diverting a portion of their force to the Great Australian Bight, and effecting a landing at a point where the railway was not more than 40 miles from the coast. They could then tear up the Une, or blow up a few bridges, a,nd in a few hours the whole purpose of the line from the defence point of view would be defeated. If we are to build a transcontinental railway for defence purposes it should be constructed where it will be free from all clanger of interruption. A line that would be free from interruption should go directly across the Continent, say, from Broken Hill to Kalgoorlie, and such a line could be continued on the other side via Wilcannia to Sydney. That would be a transcontinental line with which it would be impossible for an enemy to interfere. _ I do not put forward my views on the subject as final and conclusive. I merely suggest them as reasons why I favour the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, which will be able to inquire into the matter more fully than the Senate can possibly do. Such a Committee could examine officers of the Defence Department, including the Minister of Defence, in a few days, and the expert? testimony so obtained would remove all doubts which might exist on the matter. I do not intend to labour the question. I have advanced reasons for the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, which. I think, are worthy of the consideration of the Senate. I am content now to leave the Senate to decide the question, and I hope that the decision! will be one which will be most conducive to die interests of the Commonwealth " as a whole.

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