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Thursday, 13 September 1906

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) . - We are engaged in discussing a matter of vast importance, and I think that the gravest responsibility rests upon the Senate, and also upon you, sir. If you continue to hold the view that the question of the construction of the railway is not relevant to the subject-matter of this Bill, then, to some extent, you have cut the ground from under my feet as regards the arguments I proposed to offer. But I trust, sir, that you have an open mind on the point, and I ask you to consider earnestly^ the position in which the ruling of the Chairman, confirmed by yourself, is going to place the Senate. By passing the second reading of the Bill, we affirmed the principle that we are in favour of spending ^"20,000 on the survey of a route for a railway to connect Kalgoorlie with Port Augusta. It is the duty of every honorable senator, and I think that a great responsibility rests upon you, sir, to see that we get the benefit of the expenditure on the survey. Not a single surveyor could set a foot upon the territory of South Australia without her consent, and even if the survey were made, the railway could not be constructed without her consent. We know from the State that she will not give her consent unless the route, the gauge, and any other matter she likes to mention, suit her convenience. It must be apparent to you, sir, that if we are to be bound by your ruling, every shilling of the proposed vote may be wasted unless we first obtain the consent of South Australia to this survey being made. The survey might show that a railway could be built as cheaply as has been estimated, and that it would be a greater success than we dare to anticipate. But, on the other hand, we might run the risk of losing every shilling of the proposed vote. . 'Surely, then, the Committee has the right to amend the Bill in such a way as to make certain that the Commonwealth shall secure the benefit of the proposed expenditure. I submit, sir, with the deepest respect, that unless you decide the constitutional point to which I direct attention. you will practically confirm a course of action which may result in every shilling of the proposed vote being lost. I can quite understand the ruling which you have given more than once that it is not your duty to decide a constitutional point unless a decision is absolutely necessary for the immediate transaction of the business of the Senate. I contend that the occasion has arisen when the responsibility devolves upon you to say whether the Bill is constitutionally before the Senate or not. If you still think that it is not your duty to decide such a point, I submit that you, with your eves open, and honorable senators, with their eyes open, are going to sanction an appropriation of ^20,000, which may be thrown away. The constitutional point is clearly mixed up with the consideration of the ''Bill, and the dilemma in which we find ourselves shows the absolute necessity for you. sir, if you can see your way, to decide it. I recollect that in some correspondence Western Australia said that she would set apart a strip of land or give a guarantee provided that the Parliament of the Commonwealth had the sole voice in fixing the route and constructing the railway. In order to try to meet the very difficulty in which we are placed in regard to South Australia, Western Australia was willing, in every possible way, to submit herself to the Parliament of the Commonwealth. But South Australia, because she believes that she might be injured if a certain route were adopted, will not give her consent to the proposal when we all know that according to the Constitution that is absolutely essential. It is not a question of what we may think is the constitutional point. Our only power to deal with this Bill is derived from paragraph xxxiv. of section 51 of the Constitution. I contend that the presiding officers in each House ought to see that the business of the country is constitution ally transacted, and that it will lead to endless trouble and disastrous consequences if you, sir, rule that it is not your duty to see that the plain letter of the Constitution is respected. The Bill says that the Minister may cause a route to be surveyed for the purpose of a railway. Cannot we lay down conditions with regard' to it ? The first thing that has to be determined is the question of gauge.

It is impossible to have a proper survey without knowing whether what is required is a 4 ft. i\ in. or a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge. the PRESIDENT. - Does the honorable senator say that the question of gauge has anything to do with the construction of the standing order?

Senator DOBSON - I am combating the idea that we ought to treat the survey as being distinct from the construction of the railway. I think it would save endless trouble if you, Mr. President, would take a wider view of the matter, and ask yourself whether you can, as President, get away from the plain wording of the Constitution

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