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Thursday, 13 September 1906

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - The amendment ought to receive the support of every fair-minded senator. I intend to read certain correspondence between the various Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth and the Premiers of South Australia, from which it will be seen that three Prime Ministers - Sir Edmund Barton. Mr. Watson, and Mr. Deakin - all insisted on the consent of South Australia to the construction of the railway before the survey could be under taken. The present Government, however, are more or less under the influence of one of its members, and have weakly, and, to my mind, unconstitutionally, departed from the lines laid down by their predecessors. The two letters which I propose to read first are most important. Honorable senators have been accused by the supporters of the Bill of breaking faith with the people of Western Australia. But the correspondence will disclose the fact that it is not the Senate or the "Commonwealth which has broken faith, but the Government of South Australia. The first letter is from Mr. Jenkins. Premier of South Australia, to the Prime Minister, and is dated 31st July, 1901 -

Sir, -In reply to your letter of 23rd inst., I have the honour to inform you that prior to the submission of the Commonwealth Constitution Act for the approval of the people of Western Australia, namely, on 1st February, 1900, the Honorable F. W. Holder (then Premier of South Australia) wrote to the Premier of Western Australia (copy of letter herewith) undertaking on specified conditions to introduce a Bill formally giving the assent of this State to the construction of a line of railway to the Western Australian border.

On the nth June, I telegraphed to the Western Australian Premier as follows : - "Re Kalgoorlie railway. A Bill will be introduced into our Parliament, as agreed by Mr. Holder, 1st February, 1900, but we strongly insist upon line joining your State forty to sixty miles north of Eucla."

I have, &c,

J.   G. Jenkins, Premier.

The Bill has not yet been introduced. Here is Sir Frederick Holder's letter, about which we have heard so much. It is addressed to the Right Honorable John Forrest, Premier of Western Australia: -

Chief Secretary's Office,

Adelaide, 1st February,1900.

Sir, -Following out conversation as to the possible blocking of the construction of a railway line from Kalgoorlie to Port- Augusta by the Federal authorities by South Australia refusing consent rendered necessary by section 34 of clause 51 of the Commonwealth Bill to the construction of the line through her territory.

That is a matter on which I laid considerable stress in the course of my remarks during the debate.

I regard the withholding of consent as a most improbable thing, in fact quite out of the question.

To assure you of our attitude in the matter, I will undertake as soon as the Federation is established (West 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.

I have, &c,

F.   W. Holder.

I direct the attention of the Committee to the special features of Sir Frederick Holder's letter. The first point he emphasizes is that under the Constitution it is absolutely necessary to get the consent of the South Australian Parliament before even a survey can be undertaken. His second point is as to the improbability of South Australia withholding such consent. He says that it is quite out of the question, and he thought that it was altogether outside the range of probability that the consent of South Australia would be withheld. These are matters which should influence honorable senators, no matter to what extent their minds may be affected by prejudice. I have no doubt that if, on a question of this kind, certain honorable senators have made up their minds to have their way in riding rough-shod over the Constitution, they will not give these points the attention they deserve. In this connexion I deliberately charge the Government not only with trying to evade the Constitution in a most mean and contemptible fashion, but also with having deliberately abandoned and betrayed the rights of the States. A more weak, contemptible, and pitiable exhibition of what can be accomplished by judicious pressure and active organization by a hustler within the Cabinet I have never seen.

Senator Clemons - And with weakkneed members of the Cabinet to influence.

Senator STEWART - Yes; when a strong man meets a lot of weaklings there can be only one result. I have come to the conclusion that the sooner our governing Committee is swept clean of these people the better it will be for the Commonwealth. We do not know what wild-cat scheme may be thrust upon us if we have people like these in charge of our concerns. We do not know by what contemptible evasions of the Constitution such schemes might be introduced in either Chamber and carried through. We have a flagrant example of it in the Bill we are now discussing. The Government, of set purpose, have so framed this measure that no conditions can be imposed with regard to the survey, and in doing so they have deliberately violated one of the articles of the Constitution. When that sort of thing can be done deliberately by a Government, I say that, so far as I am concerned, I have lost all confidence in that Government. If they can betray us in one thing, it is only a step to something else. I propose to read the following letter from Sir Edmund Barton to the Premier of South Australia, dated 19th September, 1903 : -

Sir, -I have the honour to invite your attention to the correspondence on the subject of the Transcontinental Railway that passed between us in 1901, and particularly to your letter of 31st July of that year, in which you enclosed a communication from Mr. Holder, then Premier of South Australia, dated 1st February, 1900.

In the course of that letter, Mr. Holder undertook to introduce a Bill giving the assent of South Australia to the construction of a railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta by the Federal authority, and to pass it stage by stage simultaneously with the passage of a similar Bill in the Parliament of Western Australia.

In your letter of 31st July, 1901, you incorporated a copy of a telegram that you had sent to the Premier of Western Australia, in which you confirmed Mr. Holder's undertaking, and stated that your Government insisted on the line joining Western Australia 40 to 60 miles north of Eucla.

Since that correspondence the project has received careful consideration, and I am now informed that a Bill authorizing the construction of therailway has been introduced into the Legislature of Western Australia, and has passed its second reading in the Legislative Assembly.

I shall be glad to be informed whether you have taken any steps towards the introduction of a similar measure into your Parliament, and if not what is the intention of your Government, in view of Sir Frederick (then Mr.) Holder's communication, and your confirmation thereof, both already mentioned.

I have, &c,

Edmund Barton.

This was the reply to that letter: - 29th September, 1903.

Sir, -In reply to your letter of 19th inst. I have the honour to informyou, as I have previously informed the Honorable the Premier of Western Australia, that it would not only be unjustifiable but useless to submit to Parliament a Bill for the construction of this railway (of which this State's share of the cost would amount to a very large sum), without being in a position to give Parliament information as to the cost of the scheme.

I have, &c,

J.   G. Jenkins.

Here we have Mr. Jenkins absolutely refusing to bring a Bill before the Parliament of South Australia authorizing the construction of the railway. In contrasting his attitude with that of Sir Frederick Holder, I have only to say that nothing short of an Act of Parliament authorizing the survey of this line ought to satisfy the Federal Parliament. The word of a Premier is of no more value than the wind that blows. Sir Frederick Holder was in office in 1900, Mr. Jenkins in 1903, Mr. Price- is in office in 1906, and heaven knows who will be there next year. Before any definite step is taken by the Commonwealth in this connexion, we should have as a warrant for that step an Act of the South Australian Parliament. 'The present Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, Mr. Alfred Deakin, wrote a very long letter to Mr. James on 16th October, 1903. I shall quote several paragraphs from it; but it is not necessary that I should read the whole of the letter, because a portion of it has no application to the aspect of the question which the Committee is now considering. Mr. Deakin wrote: -

Sir, -On the 1st October I had the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of 29th September on the subject of the railway to Western Australia, in which you state that without further information it would be not only unjustifiable but useless to submit to your Parliament a Bill consenting to the Parliament p_f the Commonwealth constructing the great national work of connecting the State of Western Australia with its partners in the Federation by means of a Transcontinental Railway.

Under the circumstances I hope you will permit me to remind you that this Government has from the beginning of the negotiations on this subject relied on the promise given by Mr. Holder on the 1st February, 1900, in a letter to the Premier of Western Australia. That letter was published at the time throughout Australia, and is said to have been largely used to influence the people of the Western State to enter the Federation. The terms of the promise then made were so definite, and so unfettered by conditions, that this Government had not anticipated that there would be any demur to their being readily fulfilled.

Surely that is sufficiently definite to satisfy any one. That was the opinion of Mr. Deakin in October, 1903. No doubt a great many things have happened since that date, and apparently Mr. Deakin no longer holds the opinion he expressed then. But although! Mr. Deakin has abandoned what was no doubt a good, honest, patriotic, and constitutional position, a section of the members of the Senate have not deserted their duty. I ask honorable senators, and parti- cularly those who represent Western Australia, to listen to this statement in a later portion of Mr. Deakin's letter -

To make a complete survey might cost £20,000, and before asking the Commonwealth Parliament to approve of this expenditure-

Senator Styles - It is Mr. Deakin who writes in this way ?

Senator STEWART - Yes, Mr. Deakin, the old Deakin, of .three years ago, before Sir John Forrest had squeezed him - had broken his back. it is only reasonable that the consent necessary under sub-section 34 of section 51 of the Constitution should be obtained. Your Government and Parliament have much better information now as to the probable cost of the work than when Mr. Holder's promise to the Government of Western Australia was made in 1900, and I should be glad if you could see your way to consider this sufficient for present purposes, and at the earliest date pass an Act authorizing the Federal Parliament to proceed with the work. This has already been done by the Legislature of Western Australia.

In regard to your apprehension as to cost, it may be fairly pointed out that the ultimate decision with respect to this great project rests with the Federal Parliament, and it may, I think, be presumed that that Parliament, in which the interests of South Australia are fully represented, will in this, as in all other matters, be careful not to involve the people of Australia in a large expenditure without a reasonable prospect of commensurate benefits to the Commonwealth.

May I ask you, therefore, relying on this assurance, to take an early opportunity of complying with the undertaking entered into by the Premier of your State in 1900, an undertaking which, as I have said, was widely published at the time, and which has been implicitly relied on ever since by the Government and people of Western Australia, as well as by the Government of the Commonwealth in the action it has already taken.

It will be observed by honorable senators that on the 15th October, 1903, Mr. Alfred Deakin, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, was of opinion that under paragraph xxxiv. of section 5.1 of the Constitution, it was absolutely necessary that the consent of South Australia should be obtained before any action in connexion with the construction or survey of this railway was taken

Senator Turley - He does not say that now.

Senator STEWART - No; he has abandoned the position, which he took up then; but that is no reason why we should be false to what appears to me to be our manifest duty. I have quoted the views of the Barton Government and the Deakin Government, and now I come to certain correspondence, telegraphic and written, which passed between the authorities of South Australia and the Watson Government. On the 7th May, 1904, Mr. Watson as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, telegraphed to the Premier of South Australia in these terms-

Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway under consideration. Shall be glad to be advised whether, in event Commonwealth Parliament favorably considering question, you will be prepared to pass Act authorizing Federal authority to proceed with work of construction. As you are aware, this has already been done by Legislature of Western Australia. Greatly obliged if you will favour with early reply.

The reply to that telegram is dated the roth May, 1904, and reads as follows: -

Replying your wire 7th instant, Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta railway, I advised your predecessor on 22nd February, that if it was considered necessary for the State to pass an Act to give the Federal Government power to make the proposed survey, we would be agreeable to ask Parliament, when next assembled, to pass a short measure- with that object. I do not suppose you intend to ask your Parliament to pass legislation providing for the construction until survey is made, and some reliable estimate prepared of probable cost.

On the nth May, 1904, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth sent the following telegram to the Premier of South Australia : -

Your wire 10th inst., Kalgoorlie - Port Augusta railway. Shall be glad if you will kindly advise me disposition of your Government towards question of authorizing construction. The possession of your views upon this specific point will be of considerable value to the Government in considering question of survey. Will you kindly favour me early reply?

The reply from the Premier of South Australia on the 1 2th May, 1904, reads as follows : -

Replying your wire nth, Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta railway, when survey is made and reliable estimates of probable cost are prepared, we should be pleased to advise you as to what action we shall then ask the State Parliament to take. The question of making survey has already been decided by your predecessors in office. Unless you intend to repudiate their obligations -

That is a nice attitude for a man who was deliberately repudiating the obligations entered into by his predecessor -

Unless you intend to repudiate their obligations, you need no further information in order to. justify you in asking your Parliament to provide necessary funds for that purpose.

To that communication. Mr. Watson sent the following reply by wire, on the 13th May : -

Regret you appear unwilling to intimate probable attitude of your Government towards

Kalgoorlie Port Augusta Railway until after considerable expense that survey will necessitate will have been incurred. May I take it that unless survey discloses facts not now known, involving very substantial increase on present estimates of cost, you will advise your Parliament pass Bill conferring necessary authority on Commonwealth to construct line, in accordance with promise of South Australian' Government when Mr. Holder was Premier? You will readily perceive that Federal Parliament may naturally be reluctant to authorize substantial preliminary expenditure unless they have some assurance that such expenditure will not be rendered resultless by your subsequent unwillingness to act in accordance with promise referred to. In reference to latter part of your telegram. The question of adopting or modifying the policy of our predecessors is a matter for this Government to determine.

Senator Millen - That is a very businesslike statement of the position.

Senator STEWART - Yes, and the pity of it is that not only has the present Prime Minister abandoned the business-like attitude which he previously took up, but the late Prime Minister, Mr. Watson, has also followed his evil example. On the 17th May, 1904, the Premier of South Australia sent the following telegram to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth : -

Replying to yours of 13th, I have nothing to add to mine of 12th inst., further than to state that survey and reliable estimates are always prepared before we ask Parliament by Act to sanction the construction of any line of railway.

Surely the Premier of South Australia, who dictated that telegram, knew perfectly well that when his Government ordered a survey of a railway line to be made, it would not have to appeal to another Government for liberty to construct it ! If had the power to construct the railway itself, without appealing to any other representative of the House of Caesar. But the Commonwealth Government are not in that position. When a survey of this railway Has been made, at a cost of £20,000 or ,£30,000, or £40,000 or £50,000, they must go cap in hand to the Premier of South Australia, and says " If you please, sir, can we have your permission to build the railway?" And they may be met by a decided negative. If Senator Playford has any voice in the matter, it never will be constructed. I do not know how he can reconcile that position with this other position of putting his fist into the Treasury of the Commonwealth, and spending any sum between £20,000 and £50,000 of the hard-earned cash of the taxpayers on something which he knows will be absolutely useless, so far, at least, as he is concerned. Never in all the annals of history have I read of any conduct more wretched and more to be deprecated on the part of a responsible Minister of the Crown. The honorable senator says, " If I have any power, this railway never will be built." The expenditure of this money will be absolutely resultless, and yet. because he happens to be a member of a Government, which includes Sir John Forrest, he deliberately thrusts this proposal upon the Senate. I would rather be in my own position to-day, humble as it is, than be in his shoes. That is all the correspondence which I consider it necessary to read.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator omitted to read the last communication- from Mr. Watson.

Senator STEWART - On the 18th May, 1904, Mr. Watson addressed this letter to the Premier of South Australia: -

I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your telegram of the 17th inst., further respecting the Kalgoorlie - Port Augusta Railway

From this correspondence, one fact stands out with the greatest prominence - that each of the three Prime Ministers whose letters and telegrams I have read was of opinion that the consent of South Australia to this survey was absolutely necessary under paragraph xxxiv., section 51 of the Constitution. If any man was qualified to interpret the Constitution, that man was Sir Edmund Barton. As a constitutional lawyer, I believe he is almost without a peer in Australia. He was leader of the Federal Convention, and took a very active part in framing the Constitution. He was one of the foremost men in submitting it to the people of Australia. Sir Edmund Barton said distinctly that the consent of South Australia was absolutely necessary before we could take any step. Mr. Deakin said the same, and Mr. Watson, apparently bowing to the superior knowledge of the gentlemen who had held the office of Prime Minister before him followed in their footsteps. If those three Prime Ministers were right, the present Government must be wrong, and stands convicted of having overridden the Constitution, and trampled it under foot. But if the Government and another place have seen fit to ignore the Constitution, the responsibility which rests upon us, who more especially represent the States, is all the greater. It is incumbent upon us to see that we neither violate the Constitution ourselves, nor permit any one else to do so, if it be within our power to prevent them. "The Senate is particularly the guardian of the Constitution, which is the bond of partnership between the various States. It embodies the articles and conditions of agreement under which the Federation of Australia was brought about, and without which we could have had no Commonwealth. I maintain that the amendment of Senator Givens is not only reasonable, but absolutely necessary unless Parliament is to be placed in the position of a mere mendicant sitting at the gate of South Australia. We are asked to spend from £20,000 to £50,000 on a survey through a portion of the territory of South Australia. The South Australian members, in a most cynical fashion, one and all declare that; while they are prepared to vote for the Bill, as the money will be spent in their State, they have made up their minds that no railway will be built. Senator Symon said to-day that its construction would be one of the most disastrous things that could happen to South Australia. I do not believe that a single one of the South Australian senators - although they are voting for the expenditure of this money - would vote for the construction of the line. Really, mv command of the English language is not sufficient to enable me to express my opinions frankly within the Standing Orders regarding men who take up that position.

Senator Clemons - Shall I move to suspend the Standing Orders to enable Senator Stewart to describe this conduct as he would like to do?

Senator STEWART - In any case, I submit that if the Senate desires to maintain its self-respect it will insist upon the proviso moved bv Senator Givens. If we are to spend from £20,000 to £50,000, let us, at any rate, have an assurance that, after the expenditure, if we so desire, we shall be able to construct the railway without being placed in the wretched position of not being permitted to do so unless what we propose meets the views of South Australia.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. GOULD(New South Wales) [4.24]. - Senator Givens has, I think followed a wise and consistent course in submitting his amendment, which is one that the Government should accept. An affirmative vote has been secured in favour of the survey, but it was only obtained in consequence of the representation of the Government that the survey would 'be made with the consent of the South Australian Parliament. Now, I ask whether we really have that consent, and what is the nature of it? I understand that a telegram has been received from the present Premier of South Australia; but that is not the consent of the Parliament of that State. It is merely the consent ot one man who may be out of office next week. Mr. Price's communication reads -

We have no objection to survey Western Australian Railway, but desire to be consulted as to route. It must be understood that this in no way binds us to ultimate approval of policy.

But that does not bind the Parliament of South Australia. If we commenced to make the survey the South Australian Government might say, "We shall not consent to your entering upon our territory for that purpose." Then what would our position be? Unless we were prepared to become trespassers absolutely upon the Crown lands of South Australia, we should be unable to go there. If we attempted to do so the South Australian Government could eject out officers, and the Government would be amenable to an action for intrusion without legal authority. I am perfectly clear that, even if we pass this Bill, it will not be worth the paper it is printed upon without the consent of the South Australian authorities. But what will be the position in regard to private individuals? The representative of the Government has told us that it will not be necessary to enter more than two or three private allotments in order to make the survey.

Senator Playford - It will not be necessary to go through any, because those lands have al! been surveyed.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - But unless the consent of South Australia is definitely obtained, the Commonwealth may find itself in the absurd and ignominious position of being hauled up for trespassing upon land without authority. Is there power under the Constitution to authorize our officers in this summary way to enter upon the property of any individual or of a State Government? Unless there is such a power, the Commonwealth Government will" find itself absolutely out of Court. I invite honorable senators to picture the absolutely absurd position of the Government of the Commonwealth if it 'passed legislation which the Court held to be without 'the slightest justification under the Constitution. The Parliament of Western

Australia rightly passed an Act to enable a survey to be made ; and this renders the consent of that State absolute, ami impossible of withdrawal, except by means of a repealing Act. One cannot conceive that any Government or Parliament in Australia would pass any Act to repudiate a permission thus granted, if on that permission, the Federal Government had taken action ; and it is clearly and unmistakably the duty, of this Parliament to see that the Com- monwealth is similarly protected in the case of South Australia. The papers in regard to this question have already been quoted, but I think it would not be amiss to read one or two of the communications. Mr. Jen/kins, the Premier of. South Australia, in June, 1900, telegraphed to the Premier of Western Australia as follows: -

ReKalgoorlie Railway. A Bill will be introduced into our Parliament as agreed by Mr. Holder, 1st February, 1900, but we strongly insist upon line joining your State forty to sixty miles north of Eucla.

The Bill has not yet been introduced.

On the 1st February, 1900, Sir Frederick Holder, who was then Premier of South Australia, thus communicated with the Premier of Western Australia: -

Following our conversation as to the possible blocking of the construction of a railway line from Kalgoorlie- to Port Augusta by the Federal authority, by South Australia refusing consent rendered necessary by section 34 of clause 51 of the Commonwealth Bill, 10 the construction of the line through her territory, 1 regard the withholding of consent as a most improbable thing, in fact, quite out of the question.

To assure you of our attitude in the matter, I will undertake, as soon as the Federation is established (West 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.

The South Australian Government have failed to pass, or even to introduce, such a Bill. Is it to be contended that the Premier of a State can bind that State without specific legislation? Certainly, a Premier may make a promise and call on Parliament to redeem it ; but" we know that Parliament, if it thinks fit, would be perfectly justified in refusing to take any such action. In such case, the plain duty of the Government would be to resign, and give place to those prepared to deal with the matter in accordance with the .will of the people; but the new Government might not be prepared to give the necessary consent. It may be suggested that we should not delay the passage of the Bill, because it is reasonably certain that the State Parliament will pass the necessary Act if called upon to do so. In reply to that, I ask - where is the urgency for the Bill? We have been told of certain promises that were made to Western Australia by advocates of Federation, to the effect that such a railway would be constructed. But we have also been told that under present circumstances it is improbable that South Australia will ever consent to the construction of the line. How, then, are the promises of the gentlemen to whom I have referred to be kept? These were simply opinions and promises of individuals; and if the Parliament of South Australia refuses to consent to the construction of the line, it will be perfectly within its rights. Trade between east and west is at present conducted by means of good lines of steamers. A transcontinental railway would take a considerable time to construct, and would cost a great deal of money; and I think that, in such a matter, we ought to act upon the old maxim, " Hasten slowly." In view of the probable attitude of South Australia, it is all the more necessary to get authority for the proposed survey. We have been told that a transcontinental railway is of immense importance from a defence point of view ; and I admit that it would be very desirable to have all the various cities and States connected. But when the question was referred to the military authorities, Major-General Hutton forwarded a minute to the Minister, in which the following occurred : -

It may be as well to state at once that a force of the requisite strength, organized and capable of taking the field, does not at present exist in Australia, and that there are at present no local means of equipping such a force. The organization is wanting ; the departments necessary for a mobile army have yet to be created ; and there are neither sufficient guns, arms, equipment, nor ammunition available. It will, therefore, be seen that the construction of the railway, as contemplated, would under existing circumstances confer no advantage to Australia in its present condition of military disorganization and unpreparedness. 'The most that could be expected from the military situation at present existing -would be the concentration of a certain number of armed men, who, without adequate organization, administrative departments, or the required equipment, would be quite incapable of coping -with even an inferior number of an invader's troops, carefully trained, organized, and equipped with the latest modern appliances, as they unquestionably would be.

It will, therefore, be seen from the foregoing that, important as 'it would be for defence purposes to possess Inter-State communication as proposed, the establishment of railway communication would in itself be of small value without a military force being in existence which could be utilized by its means with any reasonable hope of success.

Are we in a better position to-day than we were then, in regard to our Defence Forces ?

Senator Clemons - I think that on the occasion of a Bill for misappropriation, some member of the Government ought to add his effort to those of other people who desire to steal, and assist in forming a quorum.

Senator Pearce - Are you, Senator Dobson, going to allow that statement to pass? Senator Clemons has said that the representatives of the Government ought to be in the. Chamber to add their efforts to those of honorable senators who desire to " steal."

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