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Wednesday, 18 July 1906

Mr WILSON (Corangamite) . - After the exhaustive speech of the honorable member for Wentworth, we may fairly say that the question of the desirability of authorizing the survey of the proposed transcontinental railway has been thoroughlydiscussed. I fail to see how we can reasonably proceed any further with the Bill, unless the amendment which he has submitted is agreed to. But before discussing that question, I should like to direct your attention, sir, to the fact that a quorum is not present. [Quorum formed.'] I was pointing out that the House was placing itself in a ridiculous position by authorizing expenditure upon a survey of the proposed line before the principal condition under which that line can be constructed, has been complied with. As the honorable member for Wentworth has pointed out, the preliminary survey may possibly cost £100,000 before it has been completed. That money, which has to be contributed by the whole of the States, would be absolutely wasted if South Australia .refused her consent to the construction of the line through her territory. That is the crucial point in connexion with this Bill. If the South Australian Government refused its consent to the line traversing its. territory, enmity would undoubtedly be created between that State and Western Australia. On the other hand, South Australia might be asked by this House to put its hand to something which might prove very costly. That State will have to bear a large share of the annual loss upon this railway, because there can be no doubt that its construction will involve a large annual loss. Prom the report of the engineers, I gather that that loss for the first ten years of its construction is computed at £86,696.

Mr Poynton - Upon a point of order, I desire to know whether the honorable member is in order in discussing the cost of the- proposed line?

Mr SPEAKER - I was not listening at the moment, but if the honorable member went beyond the scope of the amendment before the Chair he certainly was not in order.

Mr WILSON - With all deference to the honorable member for Grey, I would point out that I was dealing, not with the question of expenditure, but with the estimated annual loss on the maintenance of the Transcontinental Railway, and showing that a proportion of that loss would have to be borne by South Australia. The annual loss for ten years would be, it is estimated, no less than £86,696. If the South Austra lian Government would thus incur a loss of at least £100,000, in addition to the loss of the territory required for the construction of the line through that State, can it be reasonably asked to give its consent? The length of line running through South Australian territory would be 650 miles, and that running through Western Australian only 450 miles. It is obvious that the bulk of the loss of territory would fall, not upon Western Australia, but upon South Australia, whilst the actual loss on the working of the line would be borne on a population basis by all the States. South Australia has had a bitter experience of desert lines. Honorable members are aware that she has at the present time a line running through the desert to Oodnadatta, and it seems to me that if South Australia is to be guided bv her experience in that regard, she is unlikely during the present century to consent to make such a sacrifice as the construction of this line would involve. When the people of Australia generally become apprised of the true position, they will be hostile to the project. We have to consider the character of the land in South Australia through which this line would! pass. It is difficult to obtain any information on the subject, except from the report of the engineersinchief who made the preliminary survey, but the Treasurer has given to "posterity some particulars df the country on the Western Australian side.

Mr SPEAKER - That has nothing to do with- the question.

Mr WILSON - The extent of the sacrifice to be made bv South Australia depends entirely on the nature of the country which she will be asked to hand over to the Commonwealth. If the land required for the purposes, of this line were worth £40 an acre the sacrifice would be enormous, whereas if it were worth only Jd. per acre it would be a mere nothing. I have no doubt that the people of Western Australia think that an expenditure of a million of money is worthy of consideration, although it mav be nothing to the Treasurer, who has so often asked, " What is a million ?"

Mr SPEAKER - The only Question is whether or not we should proceed any further with the motion in the absence of the consent referred to in the amendment. It seems to me that a consideration of the reasons why the South Australian Government may or mav not consent is- beyond the scope of the amendment.

Mr WILSON - I am endeavouring to show that it is absolutely ridiculous to proceed with the consideration of this Bill until the. consent of the South Australian Government has been obtained to the construction of the line through their territory.

Mr SPEAKER - That is perfectly legitimate.

Mr WILSON - Quite so. I am also endeavouring to show what is involved in the proposal that a preliminary survey shall be made. If the survey prove satisfactory it must necessarily follow that at some time or other we shall have to ask the South Australian Government for the territory necessary for the construction of the line in that State. That being so, we have to carefully consider the nature of the sacrifice she will be asked to make.

Mr SPEAKER - That is where I part company with the honorable member. The question is not what action South Australia is likely to take, but rather what action we should take. We have to consider whether we should or should not proceed with this proposal in the absence of the consent named in the amendment.

Mr WILSON - I was endeavouring to proceed within those lines. Those who ask us to favorably consider this motion are seeking to place us in a ridiculous position, and are reallyacting unfairly to the people of the Commonwealth. We must remember that the cost of making this survey will have to be borne by the people of the whole Commonwealth, and we should therefore ask ourselves whether we shall be justified in incurring the expense when we have not even the consent of South Australia to the construction of the railway through her territory. The honorable member for Wentworth has mentioned the position taken up by that State. There have been some vague promises that she will at some time or other give her consent, but so far as we know no resolution has been passed by the local Parliament indicating that it is favorable to the construction of the line. In these circumstances, honorable members should not hesitate to vote for the amendment, since it outlines the only logical position that can, be taken up. Honorable members of the Labour Party seem to have broken away from their convictions. One of the planks of their platform is that loans shall not be raised for the construction of railways.

Mr Carpenter - This Bill is only to provide for a survey.

Mr WILSON - Honorable members of the LabourParty wish us to believe that if the survey is satisfactory no further action will be taken. We are the trustees of the people, and should be careful to refrain from incurring any expenditure unless satisfied that we shall secure the best possible value for our money. The amendment should be carried unanimously, for by supporting it honorable members would show that they were logical, and desired to further the best interests of the Commonwealth.

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