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Thursday, 13 September 1906

Senator TRENWITH (Victoria) . - It seems to me that the question we are now discussing is more important than the question of the survey. The ruling that has been given is of such a character that I submit, with the greatest respect, it may, if adhered to, dangerously cramp our operations in proceeding with legislation. As you, sir. properly observed last evening, the whole question is one of relevancy. How are we to arrive at a conclusion as to relevancy? . It seems to me that, by a common-sense process, we ought to endeavour to ascertain if there is any tangible, practicable, business connexion between the two issues. Of course, a survey is not the construction of a railway; but a survey is undoubtedly part of the construction of a railway. A survey may be undertaken and completed without any subsequent construction, but it is quite impossible to think of a survey without at the same time thinking of construction. Surely that fact in itself creates a ground of relevancy between the two subjects. The question we have to consider is not whether we should construct, but whether we should survey. We are not in the proposed amendment suggesting construction, but that there should be attached a condition in connexion with the survey that will render construction possible if it should subsequently be considered desirable. If we were to make the survey first, and then required the consent and found it impossible to obtain it, obviously the cost of the survey would have been completely thrown away. That practical difficulty in this case indisputably creates a relevancy in the proposed amendment. It will be admitted that it would be in order to move an amendment to the effect that the surveyors in making the survey should have consideration for a certain gauge, 3 ft. 6 in. or 4 ft. 8£ in. That amendment would deal with the question of construction, but it would at the same time be relevant to the question of survey. If surveyors, in making a- survey, aire instructed to have regard to the construction of a railway on a 2 ft. 6 in. gauge, they will be able to select a route , and provide for grades and curves which they would not dream of if the survey they were authorized to make were for a line to be constructed on a 4 ft. 8$ in. or 5 ft. gauge. In the Bill before us provision is made merely for the survey of a route for a railway, but we could relevantly amend the measure by making provision for the survey of a route for a railway to be constructed on a particular gauge. We cannot possibly dissociate from our minds the construction of the railway when we are making provision for . the survey of the route it is to take. I directed your attention, sir, to the fact' that last evening you expressed yourself as in grave doubt in giving a ruling on the question. That was easily understandable, because you had to give hurried consideration to the question without time to look up authorities, and the subtlety of the issue might well give rise to doubt. I respectfully submit that, in the event of doubt existing, as to the proper interpretation of a standing order, it is in the interests of free discussion that the decision given in connexion with it should be such as to afford the widest possible range for consideration by the Senate. I am satisfied that honorable senators, in voting on such a motion as that now before the Senate, will be influenced by no personal feeling. I think I can say that for honorable senators, and I certainly do so for myself. I have had a lengthy experience of your work, Mr. President, first of all in the Convention, when, in occupying the chair, you proved not only that you had a remarkably masterly and complete grip of parliamentary proceedings, but, in addition, the ability to arrive almost by intuition at the correct view to be taken of any question submitted to you. That is my opinion of your capacity, and if I feel called upon in this instance to differ from your ruling no personal feeling can be said to have any part in the course I take. It is impossible to be quite sure as to the right decision on delicate and. intricate issues. Our only test in such a case is to count heads. even though the majority should be wrong. With the greatest possible diffidence I shall vote against your ruling, because I am aware of no other means of arriving at a decision on the delicate and complex issue before the Senate. I hope that honorable senators will be prepared if there is a doubt, and if they are not quite sure-

Senator Playford - To give the benefit of the doubt to the President.

Senator TRENWITH - No, but to give a decision in favour of a wider opportunity for consideration by the Senate. There will be no reflection on the President in carrying a motion disagreeing with his ruling in such a manner. I am sure that you, sir, will agree that if there is a possible doubt, perhaps the best thing we could do would be to pass such a motion.

Senator Clemons - The President is in favour of the greatest latitude being afforded to the Senate in such matters.

Senator TRENWITH - I am sure of that. This is a question of greater importance than the construction' of the proposed railway. The matter involved is the interpretation of our Standing Orders on lines which, while not giving opportunity for undue licence, will afford the fullest opportunity for the expression of the will of the Senate on all issues. I urge that there is a distinct and unmistakable relevance in the amendment, and if I were in doubt, I think it would be right to take such a course as would afford the widest opportunity to the Senate to express its will. It is difficult in doubtful matters to be sure which is the right side to take, but we can always be certain that in matters of this kind, we shall be on the right side if the course we take makes for greater freedom of discussion and action.

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