Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 27 September 1912

Senator CLEMONS - I regret, of course, in common with every one else who has the interests of the Commonwealth at heart, that there should be white ants, or any other abnormal cause of expenditure ; but we must face the facts. While the debate was proceeding, I worked out a few figures, to see what railway construction alone in the Territory is going to cost. Taking the Minister's estimate of £500,000 for the construction of the line, and adding to that £100,000 for' the construction of the bridge - if he thinks that that is not too much - we shall arrive at an idea of the cost.

Senator McGregor - The estimate for the bridge is £170,000.

Senator CLEMONS - Then, according to the estimate, this line of 56 miles will cost altogether £670,000. The distance for which we have to construct the railway in the Territory is, approximately, 1,000 miles. Let us assume that we have to construct a railway twenty times the length of this particular extension. Twenty times £670,000 is £13,400,000.

Senator O'Keefe - There is a vast difference in the quality and quantity of country.

Senator CLEMONS - I am multiplying

Dy a little too much when I multiply by twenty. I will assume, if you like, that the construction of the line down south will not be so expensive as the. construction of this piece, but we are clearly faced with this proposition : that railway construction alone in the Territory - I am not including the cost of necessary equipment - will cost considerably more than £10,000,000.

Senator O'Keefe - Do you not think it would be fairer to compare the cost of the line from Katherine Creek to Oodnadatta with the cost of the fine from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie?

Senator CLEMONS -- No; because, from my reading about the Territory, I have come to the conclusion that some part of the line which is to be constructed down south will be at least as expensive as will be this particular line. At any rate, we are faced with this position : that we shall have to spend £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 on railway construction alone. But let me get back to the Bill. The cost of this extension is estimated at £670,000. I have had some unfortunate experience of the cost of railway management and the profits that accrue from running railways, and I think I may fairly say that any railway will be run extremely well if one-half of the total receipts is profit. In other words, if you can pay the working expenses with one-half of the receipts, and keep the balance as profit on the running of the line, you do uncommonly well.

Senator Millen - Do you know of any line which is doing that?

Senator CLEMONS - No. I am extremely careful, when I offer this sort of statement, to err on the safe side. If we want to get j per cent, on our outlay of £670,000 - and even the Commonwealth finds it very difficult to get money at that rate - the total receipts from the running of this line will have to be at least £42,000. I am taking one-half of the total receipts to be available for meeting the cost of working the line, and all my argument is conservative and cautious. I venture to say that there is no honorable senator who will assume for a moment that the receipts will in any degree approximate to £42,000 per annum. Where is the traffic to come from? The line is to be constructed through country in which, of course, there is no settlement at present. I have no particular objection to that, because, differing from Senator Sayers, I think that, as far as possible, railway development should precede, and endeavour to* bring about, settlement. I do not think that you ought to ask people to settle before you give them a railway. Where railway construction is part of a country's policy, I do think that, if you can be fairly satisfied in your mind that the construction of a railway would bring settlement, it is good business in Australia to construct the line ; in other words, to anticipate and bring about settlement by railway construction, rather than to wait for settlement to justify railway construction. Does any one here imagine for a moment that the construction of these 56 miles of railway is likely to bring about settlement which, for a hundred years, will create a traffic returning £42,000 a year? That is not credible. To get that amount of traffic on the line, it would have to pass through a fairly denselypopulated country. Even if there was land in the vicinity of the line carrying as many cattle as you could expect good cattle land in Australia to carry, we should get no traffic which would at all approximate in value to the amount required to pay the barest of interest on the outlay. In other words, no traffic arising from cattle country could provide a revenue of £42,000 on any line. I assume, of course, that if this line is going to play any part in the development of the Territory, the rates and freights will be such as to induce settlement and promote the particular industry for which the land is suitable.

Senator Millen - Something, I think, might be allowed for the fact that the terminal station will draw traffic from a big back-country.

Senator CLEMONS - I concede all that. But I feel perfectly certain that this will be a most disastrous financial experiment, whatever else it may be. I am forced reluctantly to the conclusion that the Ministry have found themselves practically compelled to make some effort to justify the taking over of the Northern Territory by further expenditure. It seems as if, having spent a tremendous amount of money in acquiring the Territory, the only thing we can do now is to go on spending more money because we made a bad bargain. I cannot see it in any other light.

Senator Guthrie - To develop it to the best advantage.

Senator CLEMONS - It is very well for the honorable senator to make that remark, but we are not developing the Territory to the best advantage of the taxpayers. We are piling up an enormous expenditure in the future, that will necessitate some scheme of taxation which will be even more onerous, and, in my opinion, more injurious to the welfare of the Commonwealth, than is the present scheme. I am forced to oppose this Bill. I recognise, of course, that I am in the position in which we all have been forced by the taking over of the Territory. I recognise that there is some sort of obligation upon the Parliament, in its wisdom, to do something with the Territory now that it is under its control. But I shall not support the Bill on the figures which have been given by the Vice-President of the ExecutiveCouncil. We are told that it will cost £5,000to survey the line. If it is going to cost £670,000 to construct the line, I do not believe for a moment that it can be surveyed for £5,000. I think that the comparison of £5,000 for survey and £670,000 for construction is absolutely ludicrous. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that one statement or the other is hopelessly wrong - that, if it will only cost £5,000 for survey, it will not cost £670,000 for construction, or if construction will cost £670,000, it is absurd to provide £5,000 for survey.

Senator Chataway - Half of the route has already been surveyed.

Senator CLEMONS - I was not aware of that. If that be so, of course, my argument, whilst perfectly sound, is quite unnecessary.

Suggest corrections