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Thursday, 3 November 1910

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - Under this clause, as proposed to be amended, the Commonwealth will become responsible at once for all the employes on the railway from Port Darwin to Pine Creek, and all the employes at Port Darwin, who are under the control of the State Government. We shall also become responsible, I take it, though, perhaps, I may be wrong, for the upkeep of the railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta. Before we spend any money we shall have to meet the interest on the debt of the Northern Territory, and an annual deficit of about £80,000 on a railway in South Australia proper. What I desire to know is whether, from the enactment of this measure, the Commonwealth Government will be responsible for the employes I referred to and the expense of working a railway on which, I believe, a train is run about once a fortnight? We are becoming responsible for the payment of a large sum. Between the two lines it is estimated that the annual cost to the Commonwealth, in interest and working expenses, will be from ^200,000. fo ^250,000. That, of course, is a very small sum compared with the total amount for which we shall be responsible, and which we shall have to find in order to develop the Territory. Can the Minister say if it is likely that the Commonwealth Government will run the railways on tlie same lines as the State Government have been doing, or whether they hope to be ableto obtain some traffic, and so earn the working expenses? A statement to that effect would bring a great deal of comfort to honorable senators, and, I dare say, to a great many persons in the Common.wealth. Otherwise, we shall be left in the dark, as we are with regard to the steps to be taken for managing and developing the Territory. Surely the country, as well as the Parliament, is entitled to the information which I have asked" for ! As regards the matter before the Committee, I have only to remark that, sometimes the alteration of one word varies the meaning of a page, though I do not see anything to cavil at in the amendment.

Senator ST.LEDGER (Queensland) [3-25l- - The Vice-President of the Executive Council is provoking a "stone wall." It is of no use for him to pretend to be indifferent. He knows very well that this amendment raises a very large question. We all know that the operation of the clause, even as proposed to be amended, hinges largely on the question of the issue of a proclamation.

Senator McGregor - That is not involved in the amendment.

Senator ST LEDGER - It is. When the Senate is asked to amend a clause, the operative effect of which depends on the issue of a proclamation, and the question has been discussed for so long, the Minister ought to be able to give an explanation on the main issue on which the amendment depends.

Senator McGregor - I have told the honorable senator.

Senator ST LEDGER - When ?

Senator McGregor - I cannot speak while the honorable senator has the floor.

Senator ST LEDGER - Can the Government say definitely when the proclamation is to be issued or what steps are to be taken before it is issued, and before this or any other clause of the Bill can operate ?

Senator Rae - The honorable senator would not like to get an answer which would deprive him of an opportunity to talk.

Senator ST LEDGER - I shall stop right away.

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