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Thursday, 26 September 1912

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - We are so accustomed to hear Senator St. Ledger beat the air on matters of this kind that I do not think anybody takes him seriously. I believe that a majority of the Queensland representatives, who occupy seats on the Opposition side of this Chamber, dare not support the extension of the transcontinental line from Oodnadatta to Port Darwin. They would drop their political bundles if they did.

Senator St Ledger - What about the New South Welshmen?

Senator RAE - There are a number of them who are very favorable to the proposed eastern deviation of that line.

Senator St Ledger - There are seven Queensland representatives in this Parliament who have just as strong convictions, and just as much courage to express them,, as has the honorable senator.

Senator RAE - I am not discussing the question of who has courage. But there are some New South Wales representatives in this Parliament who believe that it would be wise to adopt the proposed eastern deviation. From what study I have given to this question - and I have read a good deal upon it for years past - I believe that the transcontinental line to the Northern Territory should be continued from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, and that it should not go by any circuitous route through Queensland. Whether the people of New South Wales, as a whole, differ from me or not, I do not know, nor do I verv much care. I am of opinion that a good many persons in New South Wales and Queensland desire a more eastern route, and I am rather suspicious that there are some Western Australians who think that it would be better for the line to traverse a route in the direction of their State. But all the evidence we have in our possession is in favour of the proposal of Senator Story. I go further, and say that the Northern Territory Acceptance Act, which embodies the agreement that the Commonwealth entered into with South Australia, should be honoured irrespective of whether or not the Oodnadatta to Pine Creek route is the best. Having deliberately adopted that agreement, it would be a scandalous breach of faith if we failed to give effect to it. We are not a lot of children who enter into agreements without responsibility.

Senator St Ledger - Assuming all that, how would the honorable senator carry out the agreement?

Senator RAE - While it would be a scandalous breach of faith to adopt any other than the direct route, it would be a very much meaner breach of faith if, because no time is mentioned in that agreement, we postponed the project indefinitely. That would be keeping the word of promise to the ear, and breaking it to the hope. The manifest and inescapable obligation is thrown upon this Parliament, whatever Government may be in power, to proceed with the construction of that line at the earliest possible moment. In the best interests of the people of Australia, I believe that we should proceed with the building of it from the south to the north. Had I thought that there was the slightest possibility of defeating the Government proposal for the survey of a line from Pine Creek to the Katherine River, I would have voted against it, because I believe it is like attempting to climb a tree from the top instead of from the bottom. If we build the railway from the north to the south, and the Eastern menace ever materializes, we shall be offering it facilities to invade the country by giving it a base from which to fight, and by doing exactly the opposite of what a nation inspired by common sense would do. The arguments which have been advanced by Senator Story as to the advantages of using the existing line to Oodnadatta for the carriage of the materials required for its extension northwards are so obvious that it is almost a shame it should be necessary to repeat them. Yet while everybody tacitly acknowledges that the agreement with South Australia should be honoured, no active move is being made to give effect to it.

Senator St Ledger - It is a question of money, and not of faith.

Senator RAE -If there was any sense in the Commonwealth taking over from South Australia the liabilities that she had incurred in connexion with the Northern. Territory, we have a right to expect that some substantial effort should be made, not merely to recoup ourselves those losses, but to carry out the work which she failed to carry out. Everybody must praise South Australia for administering the affairs of the Territory as well as she did. But it is admitted that she bit off more than she could chew.

Senator St Ledger - South Australia had not sufficient pluck. Queensland did much better.

Senator RAE - It is all very well for the honorable senator to talk about South Australia's lack of pluck. There is no doubt that the resources of Queensland enable it to start works from different points which were quite out of the question in the case of South Australia. The whole of our Defence system, on which we are spending millions of money, will be a farce unless we do something to effectively defend the Northern Territory. To commence building a transcontinental railway from the north to the south is to offer our assets to the enemy.

Senator St Ledger - Unless the line be completed immediately after it is started, we shall be simply offering a prize to the enemy.

Senator RAE - Certainly we shall be offering a probable prize, and for that reason I would oppose the construction of the Pine Creek to the Katherine River extension, ignoring the plea that it will provide a link in the proposed transcontinental line, if my vote would effectively settle the matter. We should have the pluck to say what route we intend the transcontinental line to follow without fear of the consequences. The electors of this country would rather support a party which did that, than they would a party which indulges in shilly-shallying. In regard to the financing of the project, I can see no great difficulty. Admittedly the construction of a railway from a place distant from the sea-board - I mean from Oodnadatta - to Pine Creek, would not be a rapid undertaking. A considerable time would be occupied in obtaining proper surveys of the country, and in transporting the necessary material to the points where it would be required. The work would take years to complete, and that is the reason why not a moment should be lost in commencing it. The very fact that it w'ould take years to complete renders it possible to construct the line without resort to borrowing. I can well understand Senator Story's idea that the pastoral and mineral possibilities of the MacDonnell Range country might make the railway a payable one when it reached that region. I submit that, if we can construct a Navy without the aid of borrowed money, we can also build this line out of revenue. For some years, at any rate, it would be principally a strategic line, and I am of opinion that it could be constructed on a cash basis.

Senator St Ledger - Will the honorable senator show us where the money is to come from?

Senator RAE - I do not suppose that more than £500,000 annually could be spent upon its construction if the work were proceeded with contemporaneously with the building of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta line. Consequently, the money to pay for it could be found without recourse to borrowing.

Senator St Ledger - Where will you get it from?

Senator RAE - From where we get our money now, but only more so.

Senator St Ledger - Exactly; from land tax and all that kind of thing.

Senator RAE - Exactly. " I contend that what Senator Vardon said to-day, if I may be permitted to digress that far, justifies me in believing, as no doubt he does, that the land values of this country are ample to provide funds for all the purposes for which it requires development.

Senator St Ledger - It is bad finance to assume that you can have your cake and eat it too.

Senator RAE - It is equally bad finance to consider that you can borrow money and hand over the debt to posterity, because, as a matter of fact, you have to pay interest from the moment of flotation. We are the posterity of the fellows who started that game, and are now sending out from £9,000,000 to £10,000,000 annually to meet the interest on the debts of the six States.

Senator St Ledger - Posterity means the nation.

Senator RAE - It means the future people. We are the posterity of the generations who started this spendthrift game, and the sufferers by it. The financial aspect of the matter has, of course, to be considered by the Government, who have to prepare the Estimates and so forth ; but the end from which the line shall start from, and when and how it shall be constructed, is a matter of policy, which we need not necessarily mix up with the question of finance at the present time. I think that Senator St. Ledger will agree with me there.

Senator St Ledger - You cannot build a yard of railway without paying for it.

Senator RAE - Of course you cannot, and I am not attempting to say that you can.

Senator ST LEDGER (QUEENSLAND) - Where are you going to find the money?

Senator RAE - The determination of the route is a matter of policy, which can be settled irrespective of finance, because, whether we start from the north or from the south, or link up with existing lines in Queensland, money will be required. I think that there should be a declaration, without any delay, that this Government intend, whether they are able to start now or not, to honour the agreement which was solemnly entered into by this Parliament, and that so soon as they can fix up the financial proposals necessary, the construction of the line will be commenced from this end with the determination to carry it through as one means of effectively defending Australia in the future, and, at any rate, as a necessity if we are to open up this vast Northern Territory. The authorities quoted by Senator Story did not prove that the country is all that we could wish. We must all admit that, not only there, but in the inland parts-of the large States, there is a great deal of country which is a long way from being first-class, mainly, of course, by reason of its deficient rainfall. No one could follow the extracts from the diaries of the friends of the honorable senator without realizing that there are large stretches of sandhills from time to time met with, that there are places where there are rocks and stones strewn over millions of acres, and so on, and that we cannot expect to find it equal to the best of the fringe of country which has been settled along the eastern coast.

Senator Story - It is fair pastoral country.

Senator RAE - Yes, it was shown that much of it is fair pastoral country. I take it that if a means of transit were provided very much of that country now carrying cattle would carry sheep, and would be much more remunerative. We find that in the other States country which, at the outset carried cattle, became, after development had taken place, more fitted for sheep, and returned a very much larger profit per mile from sheep than it formerly did from cattle. I believe, therefore, that while the coastal fringe and that country which grows dense strong grasses and rank herbage will not, perhaps, be suitable for other than cattle, the inland part will carry millions of sheep in the future. For that purpose, there is no doubt that a railway is absolutely necessary. It is far easier to transport wool through dreadfully uneven, rough, mountain country for a short distance than it is to take it for a long distance on even open plains, in country such as is sketched, without railway transportation. For settlement, development, and safety, the construction of this railway should be commenced at' the earliest possible date, and this or any other Government that do not honour the agreement solemnly entered into by this Parliament are not worthy of the support of any honest man. We should get to work as soon as we possibly can to give effect to the agreement, first, by deciding upon the route, and then by taking the necessary steps to commence the work.

Debate (on motion by Senator McGregor) adjourned.

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