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Wednesday, 18 July 1906

Mr CONROY - That is a good deal to the north of the proposed route. The fact that the Treasurer is compelled to ask the House to vote £20 per mile to carry out this work, instead of £2 or £3 per mile, is a striking commentary on the character of the country throughwhich the proposed line would run.

Sir John Forrest - I have consulted engineers, and several honorable members agree with them that the amount is, if anything, too small. ,

Mr CONROY - I should say that it is. In view of the difficulty of procuring water, I should be sorry to recommend any man to undertake the work at £20 per mile.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - The honorable member is making the country appear really worse than it is.

Mr CONROY - I am not quarrelling with the amount which we are asked to vote ;I think that it is insufficient.

Mr Hutchison - A man made the overland journey on a bicycle.

Mr Fowler - I know a man who brought his stock over, and he told me thai they were in better condition at the end of the journey than when they started. 1484 Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta [REPRESENTATIVES.] Railway Survey Bill.

Mr CONROY - Probably they kept withinfive miles of the coast.

Mr Fowler - No.

Mr CONROY - I do not know any other point, except north of Eucla, at which the overland journey could be made.

Mr Poynton - The honorable and learned member has never been there.

Mr CONROY - There are patches of rich soil, but the trouble is that there is practically no rainfall. There is no water available.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable and learned member has never been there, while other people who recommended the proposal have.

Mr CONROY - I have travelled over miles of similar country, and am accepting the Treasurer's own description of the route. If it be an accurate one, a worse desert does not exist.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable and learned member is absolutely wrong. He should read what Mr. Muir, who wan there the other day, has to say on the subject.

Mr CONROY - No one is disputing the existence of large tracts of fairly good country along the proposed route, but the trouble is that they are destitute of water. Another objection is that, if this railway were constructed, it would enter into competition with the suggested line of Commonwealth steamers.

Sir John Forrest - That is a splendid argument.

Mr CONROY - Does the right honorable gentlemanthink that if the Commonwealth established a line of steamers it would be prepared to run through a barren country a railway which admittedly would not pay. Does he think that it is going to expend £4,000,000 on the construction of a line that would enter into direct competition with a State-owned line of steamers, and would not even return 1 per cent.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable member last session voted for the second reading of the Bill.

Mr CONROY - But I have since secured a great deal more information on the subject. It was not suggested at that time that we should spend £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 on a Commonwealth line of steamers. It is perfectly certain that if the proposal of the honorable member for Barrier is to be carried into effect honorable members who favour it cannot be in earnest in supporting the Bill now before us.

Mr Fowler - Why not? Is there not room for both ?

Mr CONROY - No; and even if there were, there is certainly not sufficient funds at our disposal to carry out both schemes. Without pledging myself to the course that I shall adopt in future, I may say at once that there are far more arguments in favour of our assuming control of a line of steamers than there are in support of this project. There is no question that the one might return full interest on the money expended, while the other would obviously not do so. Sometimes we are not absolutely free to vote as we please.

Mr Webster - What ! Not on the Opposition side of the House?

Mr CONROY - Nor on any other side. There are occasions when honorable members rely to a large extent upon the statements of others. When this Bill was previously before us I said that I would be prepared to vote for it, but I was careful to say that 1 should not commit myself in any way to the construction of the railway itself.

Mr Fisher - Does the honorable member think that this Bill commits us in any way ?

Mr CONROY - I am inclined to think, in view of the many votes on this question, that we are committing ourselves much further than was first intended.

Mr Fisher - It is said that the Bill commits us in no way.

Mr CONROY - I have come to the conclusion that, under the circumstances, my previous vote was rather a mistake, and that, in view of the extra information furnished to us, it is not desirable to hold out a sort of promise not likely to be fulfilled. It is clear that we should at. least have to ask South Australia and Western Australia, to construct branch lines; and Western Australia would not be likely to grant such a request. But it is clear that it would be ridiculous to construct the main line without the opportunity to connect with one or two of the only ports on that coast. Three years ago I was somewhat in favour of granting a sum for the survey.

Sir John Forrest - That is only eighteen months ago.

Mr CONROY - At that time, however, I wasquite unacquainted with the developments in mechanical traction that had, and have since, taken place. The improvements have been so great in this respect that we- hear of loads being carried on the road at as low a rate as 2d. per mile.

Mr Tudor - What weights are carried at that rate?

Mr CONROY - At that rate loads of 10 tons have been carried at a pace of 51/2 miles an hour, and lighter loads at 7 miles an hour. In support of what I say, I refer honorable members to a supplement to the Commercial Motor, an English publication, in which the results of this road traffic are shown to be really surprising. There are, for example, omnibuses, themselves a tremendous weight, which each carry from thirty-four to fifty passengers, and run 100 to 120 miles a day, and there are steam waggons employed on the road, and travelling 50 miles a day regularly, at a speed of from 5 to 12 miles an hour. In the face of these facts we may be prepared for great developments in this direction in a country like Australia. If produce can be carried in this way, it is clear that road traction, except where there is very great traffic, may to a large extent take the place of light railways. These mechanical tractors are able to call at farms, and then return to the road and resume their journey, and some of the heavier lorries are so constructed that flanges may be placed on them with little or no trouble when they reach the railway line, and, being of the proper gauge, they can be attached to a train without in the least disturbing the load. Under these circumstances, it is quite clear that many of us who on the previous occasion were able to support a proposal of this kind cannot give a similar vote on the present occasion. Even the advocates of this railway only look to the passenger traffic : and we must remember that at the present time, as atParis the other day, motor cars are running on ordinary roads atnearly one mile a minute. Doubtless some honorable members have travelled in a motor car at a speed of 45 miles an hour, and, with all these developments in view, the construction of arailway which would cost so much and toe used so little, would be a very doubtful experiment. If Western Australia were to construct a line from Kalgoorlie to Esperance, or elsewhere, I would say that the matter required further consideration. An entirely new aspect of the case would then be presented to us. and, under the circumstances, although I would not pledge myself. I might heartily support, not only a survey, but even the construction of the line, always keeping in view, however, the development in mechanical traction to which I have referred. In my opinion, it would be wrong to pass a measure which may lead the people of Western Australia to believe that a line will be constructed. Such a step might lessen the chances of the people of Kalgoorlie setting the line they desire from the gold-fields to the nearest port. I think it is extremely likely that,by taking advantage of some heavy clay deposits, and mixing the clay with the sand, a road might be constructed, over which motors could run just as safely and speedily as vehicles could on any type of railway likely to be constructed in that part of Australia.

Mr Fowler - Why worry about land traction when we may have locomotion in the air?

Mr CONROY - The developments in land traction are actually before us, and I venture to say that nineteen out of twenty honorable members have no idea of their magnitude. At any rate, I can say for myself that, although I have read a good deal on the subject, I had but little appreciation of the progress made in these means of travelling. I do not propose to go into this matter in detail,and shall not do more than state that, in the opinion of many sound judges, the days of road transport are coming back, and that, except where the traffic is very heavy, steam and petrol road waggons will largely do the work of railways. I am sure that, where there are good roads connecting outlying centres withrailway stations, these means of transport will be greatly availed of, and requests for small branch lines will become fewer. Vehicles such as I have spoken of have proved so useful in England and on the Continent of Europe, that it is practically impossible for the makers to supply the orders which are pouring in upon them, and any one sending from here would probably have to take those of a pattern four or five years old. Under these circumstances, I cannot repeat the vote which I gave on a former occasion, and must oppose the second reading.

Question - That the Bill be now read a second time - put. The House divided: -

Ayes ... ... ... 29

Noes ... ... ... 11

Majority ... ... 18




Question so resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read the second time, and committed pro forma.

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