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Wednesday, 2 October 1912

Senator BUZACOTT (Western Australia) . - I notice that most of the differences which exist upon this Bill relate to the route which is to be followed after the line has passed the Katherine River. Honorable senators appear to be fairly unanimous as to the route which should be adopted from Pine Creek to the Katherine. In moving the second reading of the Bill, the Vice-President of the Executive Council referred to the fact that differences did exist regarding the latter route, but intimated that those differences had been brushed aside. I hope that the Government will always find it as easy to brush aside their difficulties as they have done on this occasion. At the same time, I regret th"at, in the present instance, their difficulties have been brushed aside so easily, because I believe it would be better, in the interests of the development of the Northern Territory, that this line should be constructed through the mineral fields. The adoption of such a route would admittedly add 5 miles to the length of the line, and would involve an additional outlay of £25,000. The 56 miles of railway which it is proposed to construct will, I understand, cost about 10,000 per mile, and the additional 5 miles which would be necessary to take it through the mineral belt would cost only £5,000 per mile. That fact clearly proves that the mineral belt of country is of a better description than is the remainder of the country which the line will traverse. Doubtless the cost of maintenance through that belt of country would also be less than it will be over the balance of the route I hope that when the Government submit to the Senate a Bill for the construction of the line they will meet with some opposition, unless the interests of the mines are taken into consideration. I know that a suggestion has been made that we should build branch lines through to the mineral fields. We know what that means. Branch lines are sometimes built to mining districts, and about one train weekly is run over them. Thus These districts are not given the same chance to progress that they would enjoy if the main line went through them, lt has also been suggested that the difficulty might be overcome by constructing roads at a cost of about £5,000. But anybody who is familiar with the conditions which exist in the Northern Territory will recognise how absurd it would be to construct roads at that cost in a country where there is a rainfall of from 50 to 60 inches within a period of five months, with a view to carrying the heavy machinery that would require to be transported for mining purposes. As to the differences which exist in regard to the line after it passes the Katherine River, I am not at all concerned. I recognise that the Commonwealth is under a legal and moral obligation to build the railway through to Oodnadatta. I was strongly in favour of taking' it through from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek as early as possible, but I must admit, after listening to the startling statements made by Senator Shannon this afternoon, that it may be necessary to reconsider the question. I have read very carefully various reports in connexion with the Northern Territory, and I was under the impression that a large number of "stock were depastured there, and that hundreds of thousands more would be depastured were it not for the fact that pastoralists obtain a low price for their stock, and because of the difficulty of getting them to market. But Senator Shannon informed us that one butcher could slaughter the whole of the stock there in twenty-four hours. If that be the case the position is that we are going to build a railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, through an unpopulated country to an unpopulated country. Not only that, but we shall also be building a line through unstocked country. If the honorable senator was relating facts - and no doubt he believed that he was - what are we going to build the line for? It certainly cannot be for defence purposes. It would be absurd, in my opinion, to build a railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek for defence purposes if we have 110 population there, unless the Government are of opinion that if an enemy were to invade Australia they would send a wireless message informing us that .they were coming, so as to give us an opportunity of sending troops to the Northern Territory to meet them. 1 believe that the Government, as fal as they have gone, are on the right track, but they might have gone a little further. I hope that they will be prepared to do so before the session closes. I look at this matter, not from a South Australian or Northern Territory point of view, but only from an Australian point of view. Naturally the South Australians would prefer a railway to be constructed at once from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, because then the business men of Adelaide could establish branches at towns along the route. When the line was completed their business connexions with southern ports would continue, and South Australia would reap the advantage. The Government are looking at the matter from the point of view that the Northern Territory is our property. It is our property, but we are holding it in trust for the people of Australia. We are not responsible to South Australia or ' to the Northern Territory alone for the opening up and development of that property. We are responsible to the whole people. I am afraid that the Government are forgetting that to a certain extent, and are regarding the matter too largely from a Northern Territory point of view. Certainly in the interests of the Territory itself, if we are not prepared to look beyond that, it would be better to develop it wholly and solely from the north end, so that when the through connexion was made business relations with the northern ports would continue. The best way to develop the northern part would be to run the line northward and southward, and to establish a Commonwealth line of 'steamships to provide water carriage round the coast, and up the various rivers, where most of the good land in the northern part of the Territory is to be found. I am glad that the Government are pursuing this policy, but I want them to go a little further. We have some splendid country in the MacDonnell Ranges, where we can settle a very large population. A survey of a railway has already been made from Oodnadatta to the MacDonnell Ranges, so that no time need be lost in bringing in a Bill for the construction of that line. We should thus bridge over a great deal of the difference that now divides north from south. We should bring a population to the tropical part of the country, and induce people to go there who are not prepared to go at present, because, for one reason, persons who become sick or are stranded find it exceedingly difficult to get away. But if we built a railway to the MacDonnell Ranges, we might attract a large population there. Mines would be developed and farms established. I am given to understand that there is every probability that there will be a great agri- cultural industry in the neighbourhood of the MacDonnell Ranges in years to come, and I have no reason to doubt the information. ' If there is a rainfall there of 10 or 1 1 inches per annum, it ought to be possible to grow wheat.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - It depends on when the rain falls.

Senator BUZACOTT - Exactly ; but I am given to understand that the rain falls at the right time for growing wheat, barley, and other grains. Another question referred to this afternoon has, I claim, some connexion with the Bill now before the Senate. It is, I believe, the intention of the Government to have prepared a survey to provide for a line sufficiently strong to' carry a 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge line. For the time being, however, the intention is to lay down the rails on the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge. I commend the Government for pursuing that course, believing that they are perfectly right. It would be an absolute waste of money, at present, to pull up the line from Port Darwin to Pine Creek. It would mean laying down another line, and would also mean pulling up the line from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta, and altering the gauge from 3 ft. 6 in. to 4 ft. 8J in. A 3-ft. 6-in. gauge has been found very satisfactory in some States, and I am sure that it will be sufficient for all that is required by the Commonwealth in the Northern Territory for many years to come. I sincerely hope that the Bill will be passed.

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