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Friday, 1 December 1911

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I cannot support the amendment, because I do not believe in the land-grant principle as applied to railway construction, and because, if it is agreed to, it will absolutely wreck the Bill.

Senator Stewart - Why? Are the States of South Australia and Western Australia not prepared to do a fair thing?

Senator VARDON - It is a question as to what is a fair thing.

Senator Ready - Did not Senator Vardon try to wreck the Bill last night by voting for Senator Millen's amendment?

Senator VARDON - No, I should not be such a fool. I do not believe that Western Australia and South Australia would pass legislation allowing as much as 66, 000, 000 acres of land to pass from their control into the hands of the Commonwealth.

Senator Story - The object of the amendment is to wreck the Bill.

Senator VARDON - I do not think so. The honorable senator has no right to assume that Senator Walker desires to wreck the Bill.

Senator Millen - It is a very poor return to a man who has supported this railway throughout.

Senator VARDON - I do not question Senator Walker's sincerity, and I do not accuse him of any sinister purpose in submitting his amendment. I believe, however, that, if the amendment were carried, it would mean the wrecking of the Bill, and I have no desire to wreck it. In dealing with my vote on Senator Millen's amendment, the Minister of Defence sug gested that I was pursuing a kind of YesNo policy ; but I remind honorable senators that I said in my second- reading speech on the measure that I was prepared to honour the promise made to Western Australia.

Senator Stewart - By whom?

Senator VARDON - By politicians of South Australia especially. Mr. Kingston and Sir Frederick Holder, and others, did give an assurance to Western Australia, thai, if she entered the Federation, she would get this railway.

Senator Stewart - They spoke for themselves.

Senator VARDON - No; they were speaking in a representative capacity ; and that is why I said I was prepared to honour their promise by voting for the construction of .this railway. But that should not debar me from seeking information, and suggesting the adoption of safeguards. Senator Millen's amendment was moved, not for the purpose of wrecking the Bill, but for the very legitimate purpose of seeking further information with regard to matters affecting the proposal. It also laid down a principle which might very well be adopted .in connexion with railway construction by the Commonwealth. If that amendment had been carried, the passing of this Bill might have been delayed for seven or eight months.

Senator Story - Seven or eight years.

Senator VARDON - No. The information might have been secured, and, as we shall probably meet very early next year, the measure could then have been brought forward as the first measure to be considered in the new session; and I believe that there would have been no opposition shown to it by anybody.

Senator Lynch - The information gathered might not suit the honorable senator.

Senator VARDON - It should enable honorable senators to make up their minds as to the best route for the railway. The amendment was not moved with any intention to deny to Western Australia this means of communication with the eastern States. I am sorry that it was not agreed to, as, in my opinion, it would have been better for Western Australia, and for the proposed railway, if that amendment had been carried. «

The CHAIRMAN - That amendment has been disposed of. There is another amendment before the Committee.

Senator VARDON - There is some similarity between Senator Walker's amendment and that moved by Senator Millen. We appear now to be in a very uncertain position. The Minister of Defence says, "I am going to ask the two States specially interested to give us more land. At present we have an offer of 3 chains on either side of the line. I am going to ask for half-a-mile on each side of the line." But the honorable senator does not say that if Western Australia and South Australia will not grant half a mile on each side of the line, the Government will not go on with the work. They will be in the position of being able to come back and say, " All the States would give us was a strip 3 chains wide on each side of the line, and we have had to accept that." I think they should be prepared to take up a stronger position.

Senator Story - The Bill provides for the ceding to the Commonwealth of all the land that is necessary.

Senator VARDON - Will Senator Story say what land is necessary?

Senator Story - The Government officers will know.

Senator VARDON - The matter is not in the hands of the officers of the Government. The honorable senator should read the Bill which he has supported.

Senator Story - It is in the hands of the Department. Until the States concede a sufficient area of land, the Government will not go on with the line.

Senator VARDON - What is sufficient? The clause speaks of the grant of as much land as the Minister may consider necessary, and, apparently, the Senate is not to have any say in the matter at all.

Senator Story - What would be sufficient in the opinion of the honorable senator?

Senator VARDON - I am willing to accept a strip of land half-a-mile wide on each side of the line.

Senator Story - The Minister says that that is a fair thing.

Senator VARDON - Yes; but he does not say that he will stand out for it, and that is the very point I am making.He says that he believes we should have halfamile on each side of the line; but he does not say that he will not accept 3 chains.

Senator Story - He will not be satisfied until he gets half-a-mile on each side of the line.

Senator VARDON - Very well, let us put that in the Bill. Let us, instead of saying, " Such portions of the Crown lands of the State as are, in the opinion of the Minister, necessary for the purposes of the construction, maintenance, and working of the railway," say, " A strip of land halfamile wide on either side of the line." If the Minister will propose such an amendment as that, I shall vote for it.

Senator Pearce - Put anything into the Bill that will make it more difficult to offer terms.

Senator VARDON - Here we have an admission straight-away, that the Minister is not going to stand by the very condition which he himself thinks should be laid down.

Senator Lynch - Why not sit alongside Senator Stewart, and oppose the Bill tooth and nail ?

Senator VARDON - We have had these gibes from honorable senators from Western Australia all through. They attribute to every criticism a desire to wreck the Bill. I cannot help what these honorable senators think. I am here to do what I believe to be best in the interests of the Commonwealth, and I am not here to be dictated to by honorable senators from Western Australia. I think that we ought to state in this Bill the area of land we require, and the minimum reservation that will satisfy us. The South Australian Parliament will not, I believe, pass any Bill dealing with this matter this session; and so it would not hurt if this Bill were postponed for a time.

Senator Pearce - Then the honorable senator knows better than the Premier of South Australia, who says that they will pass a Bill this session.

Senator VARDON - I have heard that the Premier of Western Australia has said so; but I have not heard that the Premier of South Australia said so.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator heard the paragraph I read from the Adelaide Advertiser and the Argus.

Senator VARDON - I understand that a wire was received from Mr. Scaddan, the Premier of Western Australia; but the Minister of Defence would not himself accept a newspaper paragraph as a sufficient authority.

Senator Pearce - I would as soon accept it as a statement from the honorable senator, unsupported by any proof.

Senator Millen - Yesterday the Minister read a newspaper paragraph to showhow unreliable newspaper comments are. .

Senator VARDON - The Minister of Defence tol'd us that in his reply to the second-reading debate he would give us all sorts of information as to how the line would be constructed, whether by contract or day labour, and, if by day labour, whether the engineer would be given a free hand in carrying out the work. But he never said a word about these things in his speech in reply, and the questions asked on these subjects have not been answered yet. I shall not support Senator Walker's amendment for the reasons I have given; but I do think that we ought to state in this clause the minimum area of land we are prepared to accept. I believe that if we included in this Bill a condition that the States should grant a strip half-a-mile wide on either side of the line, they would do it. If the matter is left to them, they may pass legislation to give us only 3 chains if they like. If the Minister of Defence is sincere in his statement that he thinks we should have a strip half-a-mile wide on each side of the line, he will put that into the Bill, and South Australia and Western Australia would then know that if that were not considered the line would not be constructed.

Senator Lynch - A strip half-a-mile wide on each side of the line might, not be sufficient on some parts of the line.

Senator Millen - That objection could be easily overcome by using the phrase, "not less than half-a-mile."

Senator Lynch - At present it is left to the discretion of the Minister to insist upon more than half-a-mile where he thinks that would be insufficient.

Senator VARDON - But it is also left to the discretion of the Minister to take 3 chains if he cannot get any more ; and I believe he would take 3 chains sooner than lose the railway.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I think that South Australia can be trusted.

Senator VARDON - I am not questioning the good faith of South Australia; but if this matter is not definitely provided for in the Bill, the Governments of South Australia and Western Australia will be in a position to do what they like in the matter. I believe it would be better, for all purposes, to state in this clause, instead of the words " such portion of Crown lands," the words " not less than half-a-mile on either side of the line." I believe, if that provision were included in the Bill, the Minister would get what he desires from both States, and there would be no dilly-dallying about the matter.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.

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