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Friday, 29 June 1906

Mr MCLEAN (Gippsland) .- I have never been very hopeful regarding the prospects of this line. On the contrary, I have always been very doubtful whether a thorough investigation of the proposed route, and the country on either side, would result in justifying the very large expenditure which must be involved in the construction of the line. At the same time, I do feel that Western Australia has strong claims upon our sympathy. In the first place, that State is a part of Federated Australia, and is labouring under very serious disadvantage in being cut off from the rest of the Commonwealth by a very large stretch of uninhabited country. We must remember that Western Australia has been largely peopled from the Eastern States. She is an excellent customer for the products of those States, and the trade with Western Australia Has been an exceedingly profitable one for the rest of the Commonwealth, especially for Victoria and New South Wales. It seems to me that Western Australia is not asking anything unreasonable in urging that the Commonwealth as a whole shall test the question of whether this line can be justified on its merits. It is premature at this stage to speculate whether the line should ultimately be constructed. We cannot discuss that question intelligently until we have made a thorough investigation of the proposed route. I understand that it is intended not only to make a trial survey of the route, but to enlist the services of Western Australia and South Australia for the exploration of the country for a considerable distance on either side, and to prospect for water, minerals, and' other resources which it may possess. From all we hear, there can be no doubt that there is a good deal of country alone the route which might profitably' be used for settlement if a proper water supply and a reasonable outlet for the products of the land were provided. These are questions which require to be set at rest. Even if we put the Federal aspect aside, though' in my opinion it is of the greatest importance, because it is from the Federal stand-point that Western Australia has the strongest claims upon us, it seems to me that in spending ^20,000 .on this survey, we shall be returning to Western. Australia but a very small modicum of the profit we derive from our trade with that State. I am therefore quite prepared to vote for the trial survey in order that the resources of the country may be thoroughly tested. But I impress upon the Minister that the Government must be careful that the expense incurred under this Bill, if it be passed, shall not exceed the amount we vote. It is possible to incur almost an\: expense on the survey of a railway route. What is known as a flying survey can be carried out at a very small cost. We could have a reasonable trial survey at a cost which would be moderate, though greater than that of a flying survey. There might also be a permanent survey, but that is not to be thought of at this stage.

Sir John Forrest - We shall not spend more than the amount provided for in the Bill.

Mr McLEAN - It appears to me that if the. Government are careful to keep the expenditure within the limit of jf.20,000 honorable members will be treating Western Australia in a rather churlish fashion if they refuse to spend that comparatively small sum to ascertain whether the construction of the proposed line can be justified on its merits. In voting for a trial survey, I wish it . to be distinctly understood that I do not commit myself in any way to the ultimate construction of the line. I say this the more emphatically because of some remarks attributed to the right honorable Treasurer. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman made these remarks in one of his genial after-dinner speeches, but I have read somewhere that he said he would consider that those honorable members who voted for the survey were committed to the building of the line.

Sir John Forrest - No ; I was misreported. I have never said that, and I do not even think it.

Mr McLEAN - It should be distinctly understood at this stage that in voting for a thorough investigation we are not in any way committing ourselves to the very large expenditure which must be involved in the construction of the line.

Sir John Forrest - I quite agree with that.

Mr McLEAN - With that understanding, it is certainly my intention to vote for the Bill. I hope to see it pass. While I ha ve very little hope of ultimate success, no one will be more pleased than I if the exploration of the country and the survey prove that the construction of the line can be justified on its merits. When we have all the information before us will be the proper time to consider the further question of whether the Commonwealth should' undertake its construction, and, if so, on what terms and conditions. Those are matters which must be left to a -future date, and, in the meantime, I intend to support this Bill.

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