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Thursday, 26 September 1912

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator is aware that the piece of legislation to which he has referred has been passed, and that the Bill now before the Senate is to provide for the survey of a particular section of railway.

Senator STEWART - I wish to know whether the best route for this railway is being proposed. Senator Symon accused Senator McGregor of shuffling or attempting to shuffle out of the arrangement which has been made. I do not think that the Government are going to do anything of the kind.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - I did not say that they were.

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator went very near to saying it. As trustees of the money of the public, we should be exceedingly careful where we build railways in this comparatively unknown country. The first thing that ought to be done is to send out a number of ex ploration parties. Let us know the kind of estate we have got in the Northern Territory.

Senator Vardon - Surely there is plenty, of knowledge on the subject? The telegraph line runs right through the Territory, and men have been employed upon it for years ; they should know all about it.

Senator STEWART - The probability is that the men who constructed the overland telegraph line, and the men who have worked it, have never left it for a mile on either side.

Senator Vardon - There have been men residing alongside the line ever since it was constructed.

Senator STEWART - That may be so; but their knowledge of the country may be exceedingly limited.

Senator Guthrie - A couple of parliamentary parties were up in the Northern Territory.

Senator STEWART - I have been a member of a parliamentary party myself, and I know what that means.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Did not the honorable senator see anything?

Senator STEWART - I got blinded with sand going to Oodnadatta.

Senator Millen - To show how little is known of the Northern Territory, the Government are sending up horses to the Territory as an experiment, to see whether horses can be bred there.

Senator STEWART - That is my contention - that we know nothing of the capabilities of the Territory. I say that that knowledge should come first. My objection to the Bill is that the Government, apparently, are going to build a railway right down through the heart of the continent, whether the country is suitable for settlement or not, and that is the reason why I shall vote against the second reading.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The country is suitable, but whether it is suitable or not the railway ought to be built.

Senator STEWART - That is the honorable senator's contention as a representative of South Australia.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - No; as an Australian.

Senator STEWART - If the honorable senator were speaking here as an Australian he would take up quite a different attitude..

Senator Vardon - Senator Stewart is speaking as a Queenslander.

Senator STEWART - I am not. I am speaking as an Australian. I say that I do not know where the railway ought to go; and if it can be proved to me, as a member of the Senate, that the direct route is the best route, I shall vote for it.

Senator McGregor - Would the honorable senator want an angel to prove it?

Senator STEWART - No; I require proof that the direct route is the best route. Senator McGregor knows nothing about the Territory, the Government, the party they represent, and Parliament know nothing about it. We have not sufficient information to enable us to decide where the railway ought to go, and we ought to have that information.

Senator McGregor - Did I not tell the honorable senator about all the beautiful rivers up there?

Senator STEWART - We have beautiful rivers in Queensland, There are beautiful rivers in New South Wales, and still more beautiful rivers in Victoria. But I know that the southern portion of Australia has been settled for over 100 years, and yet its population was exceedingly sparse. Some people seem to think that we are going to rush a million or two millions of people up into the Northern Territory within the next ten or twenty years.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - We are, if we build the through railway.

Senator STEWART - That is all that the honorable senator is concerned about. If I were he, I would try to cover up my desires in this matter a little more carefully than he is doing. The honorable senator's speech shed a little light on the subject, from my point of view. I was in doubt, before I heard him, as to whether I should support the Bill or not, but after I had heard him I decided that it would be good business on my part to vote against the second reading.

Senator Millen - Does the honorable senator mean good political business?

Senator STEWART - Yes. There is a good deal of political business about this, so far as Senator Symon is concerned. I do not blame the honorable senator for that. It seems to be the correct thing in Parliament. It is a very bad thing for the country, but there it is. If the people are exceedingly anxious to do so, they caro purge Parliament of this method of conducting business; but they seem to be just about as good or as bad as their politicians. I think that the Government are putting the cart before the horse in thismatter. Let us first know something about the Territory. Information gained now will be money saved later on, and will lead, I should imagine, .to a much better development of the Territory than is likely tobe accomplished by a merely haphazard policy such as we have before us at present. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said a good deal about the establishment of freezing works. It is rather premature to talk about that until there are some cattle in the country, and until we know where the best cattle country is. The whole thing is gone about in the most unbusinesslike fashion. If we first secure information about the Territory, we shall know what to do and how to do it, and until we have that information, it appears to me that, while any money we may spend may, by some happy accident, be well spent, the probability is that it will be ill spent. I have come to the conclusion that the Government intend to carry out the compact which was entered into with South Australia. I am very sorry for that, because Senator Guthrie will vote for it, although he intended at first to vote against it. I againappeal to the Government to withdraw the measure, and to send two or three exploration parties into the Northern Territory-

Senator Guthrie - Does the honorable senator desire to get away for the remainder of the session?

Senator STEWART - I wish to obtain information about this Territory before I vote for the construction of any line through it. That is the method which I have been accustomed to follow in the Queensland Parliament, and I believe it is the policy which the Government ought to adopt. Seeing that there is an absence of necessary information in respect of this project, I intend to vote against the second reading of the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Millen) adjourned.

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