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Friday, 1 December 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - I dare say, sir, that I would have finished my remarks on the matter long ago if the Minister of Defence had not raised his point of order. As you are aware, I rose to reply to a personal attack by Senator Lynch on the senators for Queensland - an attack in which he said that we object to the building of a railway which is to be used for defence purposes. The Minister of Defence did not object to that attack being made upon me, and, naturally, at the first opportunity I had I proceeded to reply to it.

Senator Lynch - You said that I never cast a vote to benefit other States.

Senator SAYERS - I proceeded to reply to the attack, and to show what had been done by Queensland incidentally. But immediately I began Senator Pearce wanted to know if I was in order. I submit, sir, that if there is to be any discussion in Committee at all, this is the only clause on which T can raise the question of defence. Both last night and previously the Minister urged that this railway is to be built by the other States for the purpose of defending Western Australia. All that I proposed to do was to read from Lord Kitchener's speech a paragraph dealing with railways, but you immediately stopped me. The paragraph contains only six lines, and if you had allowed me to proceed the whole thing would have been done with. Last night the Minister had a chance to close the debate on the second reading, and he was as severe as he possibly could be on the opponents of this measure. Surely, sir, there is a time when we can reply to the references which he men made to the subject of defence. My objection to this measure is not confined to the defence point of view. We are asked to pay for the construction of the line, and we are told that its construction was recommended by Lord Kitchener for defence purposes. I propose to read a short paragraph, so that the Committee may know what he did say -

I would also mention that railway construction has, while developing the country, resulted in lines that would appear to be more favorable to an enemy invading Australia than to the defence of the country.

We think that that remark applies to this railway.

Different gauges in most of the States . isolate each system, and the want of systematic interior connexion makes the present lines running inland of little use for defence, though possibly of considerable value to an enemy who would have temporary command of the sea.

Senator Pearce - You are treating the Chairman's ruling with contempt. Go ahead.

Senator SAYERS - I am not doing any such tiling.

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! I am following the discussion. I will pull up the honorable senator when I think that he is transgressing the rules of debate. I resent the interjection of the Minister of Defence.

Senator SAYERS - I want to show that our reason for opposing the building of this railway is that it has never been recommended by any military authority. The Minister of Defence has military authorites at his service here, but he has never quoted one of them to prove that the railway is essential for that purpose. On the contrary, he has tried to put the blame upon a man who was not in the country, and has not prepared a report since the trial survey was made. I am opposed to the clause because it is contingent upon an Act of Parliament being passed by Western Australia. I shall keep closely to the clause, sir, and I hope that I shall not infringe the rules any more. In Western Australia, no Act has been passed consenting to legislation by the Common wealth Parliament with respect to the construction of the portion of the railway included in that State. Yet this clause takes power to the Commonwealth Government to build a railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie before the Governments of the two States concerned have attempted to pass Acts of the kind therein referred to. It is proposed to give the Minister power to build the railway, and to be the sole judge as to the terms laid down by the State Parliaments. I object to that. I protest against any Minister or Ministry being invested with such great power. It was intended under the Constitution that whenever it was proposed to spend £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 on a public work, the Parliament should know definitely the grounds on which the proposal was based. It was never the intention that the power to spend should rest solely in a Minister. Never before has such a large .power been asked for by a Minister in a British country. No Minister in these States, or, indeed, in any British Possession, has ever applied to Parliament for the power which the Minister of Defence now seeks. Of course, it suits the senators for Western Australia to pass the clause. I. suppose that if I represented that State I might hold similar views.

Senator Lynch - You have been flogging these two States, and now you start to defend them

Senator SAYERS - I have not been flogging those States or their representatives. I am flogging only the Ministry, and those who support a Bill of this description. In my second-reading speech, I gave those honorable senators all the credit which I could possibly give them. In this clause there is not a word indicating what the Minister expects to get from the States concerned in the matter of a land grant. Is the Committee, in its sober senses, to give the Minister power to take either 3 chains or 6 chains of land along the route? Surely it is the duty of Parliament itself to say what area is required for the purposes of the line. Surely it is not the function of Parliament to leave the determination of that question solely to the Ministry ! When I see a provision of this kind in the Bill, I want to know why Parliament exists at ali This skeleton clause does not reserve to the Parliament an opportunity of saying whether or not it is satisfied with1 the terms arranged for by the Minister. We are asked to leave practically, everything in the hands of the Minister. We have no guarantee that the States interested will pass Bills dealing with the matter; and, if we are to judge by what we see in the press, the South Australian Government have no intention to pass such a measure this year. There is, therefore, no occasion to rush this proposal through the Senate. I 3o not agree with Senator Walker's amendment, because it proposes a reservation in alternate blocks, and I think that the land right along the line should be reserved. But if we can get no better proposal from the Government, I must vote for the amendment, in order that there may be some guarantee that the money expended on this railway will be returned to 'the Commonwealth, and that the other States will get a share of the unearned increment created by the construction of the line.

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