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Thursday, 20 September 1906

Senator FRASER (Victoria) .- I cb not intend to delay the third reading of this measure, although I hold very strong views upon it. When I was a candidate for this Chamber five years ago, I denounced the proposed railway. Some twenty-five years ago, I had something to do with the construction of a line from Port Augusta to Farina in South Australia, and, as a result, I know that the country through which the proposed railway would pass is a veritable desert, owing to its lack of a sufficient rainfall. The very fact that it is still unoccupied, notwithstanding that daring men are to be found who are willing to take their lives in their hands, and to travel to any part of the world in order to develop country which is capable of development, is conclusive evidence of that. Yet this piece of country is still undeveloped.

Senator Styles - People will not look at it.

Senator FRASER - The country has been tried several times, but it requires superhuman efforts to traverse it, even in the most favorable season. I think that the view I am expressing, so far from being a narrow, is really the common-sense view ; and I believe that if the people of the Commonwealth were polled to-morrow there would not be 5 per cent, in favour of this proposed survey. Of course, South Australia is, to some extent, interested. I can quite understand that the people of Port Augusta, whom I knew twenty-five years ago, are in favour of this expenditure; but that is only natural on the part of any community. Western Australia is a wealthy State ; and, if the State Legislature had any faith in this railway, they would prove that faith by undertaking a survey. I am glad to see the provision in the Bill that the £20,000 must not be exceeded without the sanction of Parliament. This is a territory which cannot be traversed without special precautions in the provision of camels, ana so forth ; and if a railway were built to-morrow, water would have to be carried for hundreds of miles, or provided by some artificial means. This is as wild-cat a scheme as any on earth. There are tens of millions of acres throughout Australia awaiting development ; but we know that this work is in the hands of the States themselves. As to the defence aspect of the question, we know that we depend on British and Australian ships, and not on any railway - over which it would take a week to travel, and which might- be broken mid-way at any time by an enemy. Further, we know that on a gauge of 3ft. 6in. no average speed greater than 25 miles would be attained, and modern vessels can travel quite as quickly. We are now within a few weeks of a general election, and I ask why this question could not be submitted to the people. If it were submitted I have not the slightest doubt that there would be an overwhelming majority against the proposal. In any case, honorable senators and members of another place who have voted for this Bill will have to answer to their constituents. I re gret that, owing to my being paired with Senator Symon, I shall not be able to vote against the third reading.

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