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Friday, 1 December 1911

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I regret very much that the Minister is not only opposing this amendment, but is opposing an attempt on the part of the Senate to get for the Commonwealth Government, or for the people of Australia, any portion of the community-created increment, which will arise in consequence of die construction of this railway. The people of Australia are asked to spend £5,000,000 to build a railway through a portion of it. The Labour party has always maintained that, wherever values were increased by the expenditure of public money, the increases in such values were the property of the people as a whole, and not the property of any section of the people. In this Bill, we are dealing with Australian money to be spent in two portions of Australia. Undoubtedly, I think, if the statements of the advocates of the Bill are true, very large increases in values will take place by reason of the construction of the railway.

Senator Barker - You said that it is a sandy desert.

Senator STEWART - The Committee has accepted the statements of the Minister who introduced the Bill, and honorable senators who have spoken in support of it, and, that being the case, I am bound to proceed on the assumption that they are correct.

Senator Millen - If there is a value to be created by the construction of the railway, the Commonwealth is entitled to a share of that value, and if there is no value to be created the States concerned cannot offer any objection.

Senator STEWART - That is quite true. We have heard a number of curious arguments. No doubt, honorable senators felt that they were up against rather a difficult position, and they tried to jump the fence in the best way they could, some of them in more or less ungainly fashion. The Minister of Defence said that it would be exceedingly improper for the Commonwealth to compel Western Australia and South Australia to pay for the building of this line through their own territories. Nobody has asked them to do so. I do not admit for a moment that Senator Walker's amendment is a perfect proposal, but it does not ask any more than that the Commonwealth shall get one-half of 'the communitycreated value caused by the construction of this line. The honorable senator proposes that the States specially interested shall get the other half, and that in respect of the country within 15 miles of the terminal stations they should get the whole of it. Senator Gardiner was especially severe in dealing with me. He asked how, believing as I do that the Commonwealth should get the whole of the communitycreated value, I could bring myself to vote for Senator Walker's proposal. I did not tell the honorable senator that I would vote for Senator Walker's proposal, but even if I do so I shall occupy a more consistent position than that which Senator Gardiner will occupy if he votes against it. The honorable senator upbraids me for taking 10s when I cannot get 20s. in the £1. We have had the objection that if the Commonwealth takes over these lands it will be only adding to its difficulties. Let us suppose that the Commonwealth does not take them over, and what will be the position? I am assuming now for the sake of this argument that what honorable senators supporting the proposal have said about the country through, which this line will pass is true. We have been told that it will be settled, and one honorable senator - I believe it was Senator Lynch - talked of a population of 15,000,000. He pointed out that arid districts of America, with a rainfall no better than that of this country, now carry a. population of 15,000,000. We can only tell what will happen upon the construction of this line by considering the results of similar enterprises in the past. We have found invariably that when a railway is built through new country the leasing and selling values of land are increased. Upon the construction of this line, if this country is any good at all, Western Australia and South Australia, instead of getting a few shillings per square mile for it, may be able to get £2 or £3 per square mile. If they decide to sell the land, they may, instead of getting 2s. 6d. per acre for it, get as much as 5s. or ros. per acre. I repeat that if the land values of this country are increased to such a degree by the building of this railway, the Commonwealth is entitled to a share of that increase. Senator Gardiner told us that the Commonwealth should get its share by means of the Commonwealth land tax. But he forgets that it can get that anywhere throughout Australia, and from districts in which not a single penny of Commonwealth money has been spent. Though 1 do not approve of Senator Walker's amendment, I feel constrained to vote for it as being the best thing in sight. The Government will do nothing, and I know that no honorable senator on this side would support me in my idea as to what should be done.. In the circumstances, I feel that I must take the best terms I can get. I do not foresee any of the difficulties which some honorable senators have indicated may arise if the Commonwealth should own alternate blocks along this line of railway. Every one who has studied the subject knows that the system of railway building adopted in Canada has had most excellent results. The Canadian-Pacific Railway Company obtained alternate blocks of land from the Canadian Government for the construction of their railway. The company was exceedingly anxious for traffic, and got rid of its lands as quickly as possible by settling people upon them. I think that all that has been done in Canada might have been done without the disadvantages attaching to private railways; but we are told that there is always a soul of good even in things evil, and the system adopted in Canada has \Vorked well. The Canadian-Pacific Railway Company sold their lands for large sums, and similarly the Commonwealth could sell or lease lands acquired under Senator Walker's amendment, and the money so obtained could be paid into the Commonwealth Treasury. The Commonwealth could afterwards come along with its land value tax, as it has already done in the case of lands alienated by the States. Senator Walker is, in my opinion, exceedingly moderate in his demands. I would have preferred to go a great deal further, but I could not get any support. I am therefore compelled to take what he offers. I have no hope that the honorable senator's amendment will be carried, but I think it is a calamity that after all the discussion we have had up and down the continent of Australia on this question of community-created values, the betterment principle, and all the rest of it, now that the Commonwealth Government have an opportunity to give an object lesson in that kind of legislation, they deliberately abandon the principle. People will say, " These men are good at preaching, but they do not practice when they have the opportunity." Others will say, " The Labour party is a house divided against itself. They do not know what their policy is; they are nothing but a lot of children crying for the moon." I think that the Commonwealth will be injured by this failure on the part, not of the Government, but of the Federal Parliament - because it is the Parliament that will be primarily responsible - to take advantage of this opportunity to secure for the Commonwealth community-created values, brought about by Commonwealth expenditure. There will be a feeling of disgust in the minds of many people in Australia that this opportunity to place a great principle on the statute-book of the Commonwealth is not taken advantage of. Honorable senators supporting the Bill have twitted members of the Opposition with the fact that they objected to the proposal to secure for the Commonwealth community-created values in the Federal Territory. All I have to say on that point is that the position before us is a remarkably strange one. On the Opposition side we have honorable senators who a few months ago were opposed to the idea of the Commonwealth securing communitycreated values in the Federal Territory.

Senator Millen -There is no justification for that statement.

Senator STEWART - Perhaps it is not true, but assuming that it is, the members of the Opposition in the Senate are now converts to that principle, while on the Government side we have honorable senators, who a few months ago were loud in their protestations that the Commonwealth should keep these community-created values, now opposed to that idea. On the one hand we have converts, and on the other, I do not know what we have.

Senator Sayers - Renegades.

Senator STEWART - I would not put it that way. Honorable senators are free for my part to find the word which should be applied to them. I never object to converts. I am glad to see members of the Opposition in the Senate coming round to the adoption of a common-sense policy at last. But I am exceedingly sorry to see honorable senators supporting the Government going in the other direction. Here we have the ordinary idea of parliamentary opposition run mad. If the Government proposes one thing the Opposition are against it, and if the Opposition propose something the supporters of the Government are against that. It would appear that everybody in the Senate is for the party, and nobody is for the country.

Senator de Largie - Excepting Senator Stewart.

Senator STEWART - I try to keep the balance as even as I can. It will be admitted that I am often, I will not say in opposition to, but out of harmony with, the members of my own party.

Senator Lynch - How does the honorable senator feel himself?

Senator STEWART - I feel quite happy, and that I have done my duty according to my lights.

Senator Millen - There is a good deal of that kind of feeling in this chamber.

Senator STEWART - Very well, I have it, and I think I have got the right sow by the lug this time, too. I do not like to see such an opportunity as is now presented to us to get money for the Commonwealth slip by. Senator Gardiner has said that he does not wish to see any more money coming into the coffers of the Commonwealth. Neither do I, if it is to come through the Customs. That is another reason why we should take advantage of this opportunity to secure more of the value created by Commonwealth expenditure - that we may be in a position to reduce Customs duties. That is a reason which should appeal to every member of the Senate, especially on the Government side, where every individual is pledged to direct, as opposed to indirect, taxation. Here is a chance offered to get more revenue in a perfectly legitimate fashion, and supporters of the Government refuse to take advantage of it. In the absence of anything better I shall vote for Senator Walker's amendment.

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