Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 29 June 1906

Mr ROBINSON (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Their report was laid upon the table of the House on the 24th July, 1903. Mr. O'Connor, in his report, estimates the cost of providing a water supply at £594,000.

Sir John Forrest - That is far too much in the light of our present knowledge.

Mr ROBINSON - Mr. JohnMuir estimated that between Kalgoorlie and the South Australian border, a distance nf 475 miles, or less than half that of the total length of the line, the cost of providing a water supply would be £183,000. If we double that estimate, so as to insure a water supply over the whole distance which the railway would traverse, the expenditure would be, approximately, £400,000.

Sir John Forrest - But the whole of that country is not so badly off for water.

Mr ROBINSON - L am quite aware of that. But the fact remains that it is country possessing a very low rainfall.

Sir John Forrest - Does the honorable and learned member mean to say that of Fowler's Bay, where there are numerous farms ?

Mr ROBINSON - It is true that there are one of two good spots on the route, but practically the whole of the country that would be traversed by the line has a very low rainfall. Here is Mr. Muir's report upon the subject-

I am quite satisfied that the country we have been exploring is almost, if not quite, waterless. The natives evidently obtain their water supply from the mallee and other roots, numerous heaps of which are to be seen lying about, and a blackfellow will not, I believe, have recourse to these roots if he can obtain water within anything like a reasonable distance.

That is a pretty strong declaration to make. He further says, upon page 8 of his report -

As will be seen by my general remarks, the proposed railway would traverse about 475 miles of country in this State, which is, to all intents and purposes, waterless. Of this length, for the first 100 miles water can be conserved in tanks, using the granite and ironstone ridges in the localities as a means of catchment. But for the remaining 373 miles, in the lime-stone country, the porous nature of the soil precludes any hope of being able to conserve surface supplies.

Sir John Forrest - We could cement tanks.

Mr ROBINSON - That would cost a very, large sum of money. Mr. Muir goes on to show that it might be necessary to put down bores. These would cost £60,000 for a certain pol tion of the whole distance. There is no warrant for assuming that artesian water can be found.

Sir John Forrest - He is in favour of putting down bores.

Mr ROBINSON - I know that he is. I am analyzing the evidence of those gentlemen who are favorable to the line, with a view to showing that even upon their statements it is an undertaking which we should be very chary of sanctioning for many years to come'. Further. I find from the testimony of these gentlemen the very grave doubt exists as to whether a line can be constructed at anything like a reasonable cost, and whether a water supply can be obtained.

Mr Groom - Does the honorable and learned member say that the cost of a. water supply is not included in the estimate of £4, 500,000? .

Mr ROBINSON - I am under the impression that it is not.

Mr Groom - It is included, as will be seen by reference to the schedule.

Mr ROBINSON - I was in error upon that point, for which I am sorry. Leaving that item out of consideration, I still say that the cost of constructing the projected railway would be . £4,250,000, exclusive of the amount that would be involved in insuring a water supply. Now we all know that the expenditure which would be incurred in providing a water supply is necessarily a matter of conjecture. Here are two men who have had tobetter facilities for judging of the cost' of providing a water supply than have the engineers-

Sir John Forrest - Mr. Muir went over the country .

Mr ROBINSON - I am aware of that. His testimony is that to insure a water supply between Kalgoorlie and the South Australian border, which is less than half the total length of the line, an expenditure would have to be incurred of £183,000.

Mr Groom - After seeing Mr. Muir's report, the engineers reduced their estimate by £500,000.

Mr.ROBINSON.- Mr. Muir's report was written to put the project in the most favorable light.

Mr Groom - That is not correct.

Sir John Forrest - The engineers of all the States reported upon it.

Mr ROBINSON - Their report assumes that the working expenses of this line, which would traverse a more or less waterless country, would represent about 55 per cent, of the revenue accruing from it, notwithstanding that in Western Australia the proportion of the working expenses of the railways to the total revenue derived therefrom is nearer 80 per cent. In, other words the engineers claim that the working expenses of this particular line would be very much less than those of far more favorably-situated railways.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable and learned member must bear in mind that it would practically traverse very level country.

Mr ROBINSON - But there are other things to be considered. For instance, there is the cost of stacking coal along the route, the repairs which would require to be undertaken, and the maintenance of the line. The cost of all these things, having in view the difficulty that would be experienced in getting men to live in the country through which the line would pass, would be very heavy indeed. Further, the engineers have reduced the allowance for contingencies by, a very substantial amount.

Sir John Forrest - Has the honorable and learned member seen a copy of Mr. Gwenneth's report?

Mr ROBINSON - I have not. I do not say that there are no reports favorable to the construction of the line, but I do say that the reports generally present sufficient evidence to make us very chary about sanctioning the undertaking.

Mr Watkins - It seems to be a question of which Prime Minister will put the measure through Parliament.

Mr ROBINSON - I venture to say that had a division upon this Bill been taken within six weeks after the assembling of the present' Parliament, it would have received very short shrift indeed. It was owing to the necessity which Governments were under to maintain friendly relations with the five powerful representatives 'from Western Australia, that the measure was included in so many Ministerial programmes.

Mr Fowler - All the leading men in this Parliament are committed to it.

Mr ROBINSON - The honorable member is quite correct.

Mr Fowler - They were committed to it long before we had Federation.

Mr ROBINSON - Unfortunately, they have been committed to it one by one. I do not think that even my honorable friend, who is such an enthusiastic and excellent supporter of this line, will deny the accuracy of my. statement that, had a division been taken on the Bill within six weeks after the meeting of this Parliament, it would never have got beyond this Chamber.

Mr Watkins - Oh, yes it would, because the right honorable member for East Sydney wanted to get into office even then.

Mr ROBINSON - The line has ob-. tained a factitious support by reason of the frequent changes of Government which have taken place. Now that it seems unlikely that another change will take place before the general election, the present seems an opportune time to deal effectively with the Bill. Our constituents know that if we are committed to the proposal which it contains, and if £20,000 proves insufficient to complete the survey, we shall have to vote an additional sum to see it through. We cannot carry the survey to the borders of South Australia and then abandon the work.

Sir John Forrest - The Government say that they will not spend more than £20,000.

Mr ROBINSON - Other surveyors declare that the undertaking, will cost £50,000 or £60,000. Does the Treasurer wish me to believe that if the expenditure of £20,000 suffices only for half the survey, the Government will not complete it? Does he mean to suggest that he would vote against any further expenditure? The fact is that when once we put our hand to the proposed survey, we shall have to undertake the construction of the line. I do not believe in the building of the railway, and therefore I shall not vote for the survey of a route. I hope that our brethren in ' another place will maintain the firm attitude that they took up on this measure last session. If they do, they will save the country an expenditure of £20,000 - possibly much more - and postpone for a considerable period the project of building this so-called transcontinental railway.

Suggest corrections