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Tuesday, 28 November 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - Before entering upon the discussion of the merits, or rather the demerits of this Bill, I wish to refer to something which took place whilst Senator Chataway was speaking. The honorable senator pointed out that in his opinion the Go vernment had misunderstood Lord Kitchener's advice with regard to the railway systems of Australia as part of a defence system, and he made out his case. But the Minister of Defence suggested by interjection that Lord Kitchener had advised the construction of this railway presumably from a defence point of view. I, by interjection in reply to the Minister, pointed out that that utterance of Lord Kitchener was an after-dinner utterance.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable member mean that he was irresponsible then ?

Senator ST LEDGER - Honorable senators are welcome to put any construction they please upon that remark of mine. I made it plain at the time that I used the term " after-dinner speech," in order that it might be clearly understood that Lord Kitchener's remarks on that occasion were certainly not official. With every respect for Lord Kitchener I do not propose to qualify that statement in any way. Whilst entirely disclaiming any sinister construction which may be placed upon my remark, I say, without hesitation, that on the occasion in question, Lord Kitchener was like the Greek shoemaker, in that he went somewhat beyond his last. In other words, he was good enough to make certain observations on the railway policy of this country entirely apart from defence matters. I repeat that his utterance was not an official one ; but I do think that, when he mentioned matters relating to the railway policy of the States and of the Commonwealth, he went somewhat outside his province. That policy exclusively concerns the States and the Commonwealth. In matters of defence, we invite the opinions of such experts as Lord Kitchener, and give them the weightiest consideration. Except for the strongest reasons, there is scarcely a tittle of any policy connected with naval or military defence which they may promulgate that we would not thankfully receive and adopt. But railway matters, apart from defence, concern us alone. There are two or three outstanding features connected with this Bill which must arrest the attention of everybody. The first is that neither the Minister himself, nor a single supporter of the Government, has given the slightest reason why the proposed railway should be undertaken. It is true that its construction has been urged upon what have been described as " national " grounds. Now, the word " national " reminds me of the blessed word " Mesopotamia." It is a glorious word when used in the right place at the right time. But I would remind honorable senators that that which is national must be supported by business. We know, from the varying opinions of experts, that the cost of constructing this socalled " national " undertaking will be from £4,000,000 to £5,000,000. Allowing for the difference between official estimates and the actual cost based upon past experience, it is not unreasonable to assume that the cost of the proposed line will be anything from £5,000,000 to £6,000,000. This project has been in the melting-pot of Federal politics for the past ten years, and yet the Government have not given the slightest indication of where the money for its construction is to be obtained, how it is to be raised, and when it is to be paid.

Senator McGregor - Base is the slave who pays.

Senator ST LEDGER - But it will not do the Vice-President of the Executive Council any good to urge that claim when the bailiff enters his house armed with a writ. If he did urge it, probably that officer would tell him to get his head read, or to put an iced towel round it. Is there a single instance connected with railway construction in the world where a similar procedure has been adopted.

Senator Pearce - What procedure?

Senator ST LEDGER - Is there a single instance on record in which a deliberative assembly has been asked to sanction the construction of 1,100 miles of railway without being told how the money is to be raised, and who is going to pay for the undertaking? What is the reason for this departure? Again only the one reason - the use of the blessed word " national."

Senator Pearce - The Treasurer has answered the honorable senator's question.

Senator ST LEDGER - 1 defy the Minister, except with the most powerful microscope, to discover anything in the Treasurer's Budget which discloses where the money is to come from. It is a pity that the Minister, in submitting this measure, did not enlighten us upon the subject. It may be that the position is as clear as crystal from the Treasurer's statement, but, if so, it is singular that the Minister of Defence did not point out the reference to us.

Senator Pearce - Will the honorable senator vote for the Bill if I repeat the statement?

Senator ST LEDGER - It is too late for the Minister to begin to bargain with me now?- Up till ten minutes ago I was open to consider my position.

Senator McGregor - Nobody is listening to the honorable senator.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am not speaking to the Grand Panjandrum of the present Ministry, but to a somewhat larger, and I hope, a more intelligent audience.

Senator McGregor - Impossible.

Senator ST LEDGER - I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the VicePresident of the Executive -Council is at last beginning to think that he is the only man in this Parliament, or, possibly, in the universe, for whose benefit a question is discussed. May I remind him that I am debating this Bill for the benefit of a much wider and more appreciative audience?

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator means the Women's National League.

Senator ST LEDGER - That is a very sore point with the honorable senator, and I can quite understand why he is so perturbed about it. If he were acquainted with the politics of the various States, he would know that every honorable senator representing Queensland is, more or less, pledged to use all the forms of Parliament, without abusing them, in his opposition to this Bill. We are bound to give effect to our pledges. We are bound - even though we may do so by a silent vote - to justify to the Commonwealth of Australia the attitude of the citizens of Queensland. Otherwise Parliament would cease to be a deliberative assembly. More than that, every honorable senator has a right to speak at some length upon this question, seeing that it is out of the pockets of the people of the various States that the money to pay for the construction of this line must come. Any representative of Queensland would be faithless to his duty if he did not seek to give full effect to his pledge. It has been the custom, ever since railways were constructed by the States of Australia - from the turning of the first sod of the first line - for fairly minute particulars as to route, probable cost, revenue, expenditure, and difficulties of construction to be laid before Parliament. In New South Wales and Victoria no line 10 miles in length could be constructed without a report from a Committee, called in one case a Public Works Committee, and in the other a Standing Committee on Railways. That is done in order that when Parliament authorizes the construction of a line, a body of information shall be brought together, founded upon evidence by the best experts obtainable, so that the representatives of the people may know all the particulars that can be furnished to them on the subject. Parliament, under that system, has the benefit of full criticism and of all available facts before it authorizes the expenditure of a penny. Similar safeguards prevail, to a greater or a lesser extent, in every State. Further than that, there are members of the State Parliaments who are more or less personally acquainted with the districts through which proposed railways have to pass. But no such safeguards have been provided for this Parliament in reference to the railway under consideration. I am at a loss to know why the Government should, towards the end of a hard session, desire to force this Bill through Parliament. Do Ministers mean to say that if we were to take proper time for the discussion of every detail any material injury would be done to the Commonwealth ? As- Senator Stewart remarked, the railway certainly will not benefit Australia during the next six or eight months. I am glad that a voyage to the Antipodes has brought Senator Stewart round to an appreciation of my point of view with regard to immigration. It is certain that 20,000 or 30,000 extra people settled in Western Australia would do more to safeguard this country from invasion than this railway would do, even though it were built in a month or two, with the aid of the magical lamp of Aladdin. What great interest in Australia would suffer if this proposition were hung up until the next session of Parliament. If, during the recess, Ministers devoted themselves to obtaining full information in regard to the route itself, the cost of construction, the probable revenue to be derived, and the estimated working expenses, nothing but good would flow from their efforts. Parliament, indeed, ought to insist upon that being done. I appeal to the supporters of the Ministry, who feel as I do with regard to this Bill, to refuse to assist them in forcing the measure through upon such meagre information on two or three of the most essential points. What interest, national or material, is going to be served by authorizing the construction of this railway upon imperfect information?

Senator Blakey - The question has been before Parliament for ten years.

Senator ST LEDGER - It is unjust to bs, as guardians of the public purse, that the

Government should use their powerful ma'jority to put through a Railway Bill involving the expenditure of between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000 of money on such meagreinformation as they have given us. I assume that Ministers have dealt fairly with us in this respect, and that the reason why they have given us so little information is that they have no more. If they had it, and did not give it to Parliament, they would be unworthy to hold their positions.

Senator Needham - The fact is that thehonorable senator does not want information.

Senator ST LEDGER - That is an unfair inference.

Senator Needham - The information is there if the honorable senator wants it.

Senator ST LEDGER - There are thirty-five other senators besides myself who should require this information. At all events, it should be forthcoming, because we are responsible to our constituents for the taxation which this proposition will involve.

Senator Gardiner - The Government have supplied information, but they cannot supply the honorable senator with the understanding to appreciate it.

Senator ST LEDGER - I may be allowed to have sufficient intelligence to turn to the engineers' reports, and find out by simple addition what the expenditure would amount to if full details were supplied. I do not believe that Senator Gardiner would buy a horse upon information which did not supply him with more valuable particulars than have been supplied to us with regard to this railway. I indorse Senator Stewart's remark that if our own money were concerned, not one of us would vote for the line upon the meagre information before us. The Minister, in one passage of his speech, expressed exactly what 1 have been attempting to say. He said -

I venture to say that few railways have been so much discussed, so much inquired into, so much thought over as this particular line. All the advantages and disadvantages, all the benefit, all the evil that can flow from its construction, are thoroughly well known and investigated.

Mark the words, " all the advantages and disadvantages." That is a somewhat remarkable expression. If there is one attribute which distinguishes the Minister of Defence, especially when he is charged withthe responsibility of introducing a Bill, it is that he weighs his words pretty carefully. When he used the word " disadvantages," I thought it peculiarly appropriate. I took it that he referred to the disadvantage that the Senate should be asked to vote for a project involving millions of money on indefinite and insufficient information. It certainly is a disadvantage to have to deal with a matter of this magnitude under the circumstances in which it is presented to us. If it does not mean that, it must have this construction - and possibly it is the only alternative construction which can be put upon it - that the information which we do possess, with regard to the character of the country, is such as to make us certain that this line will be a permanent loss to the country, so far as it is a developmental railway. I was loath to think that, notwithstanding the reports I have read, until the Minister put it in that way. But having read since the beginning of this debate the reports on the territory I can quite understand that, possibly that interpretation of the word " disadvantages " may be the one which the Minister meant. How singular then if either interpretation is correct, and especially the latter one, does this proposal stand out as against proposals which are brought down by a State Government for approval. I have never heard of a State Government, and seldom of a State party, saying that a proposed railway would be a disadvantage to the State. The Government are prepared to prove that most of the railways included in their works policy will be a decided advantage to the country, and not a. disadvantage or an evil. When the Minister asked us, in the light of the discussion and the information we possess, to consider the advantages and the disadvantages, and further, when he spoke of the benefits and the evils which would follow, he practically admitted to the Senate that this railway will be more or less a permanent incubus upon the taxpayers. Reading the whole of his speech it is evident that he has almost come to this conclusion - he almost expressed it in direct words - that, if it were not for its relation to the defence policy he could not recommend this proposal to the Senate. And, first and last, its construction depends on the fact that it may, possibly will, be part of the defence policy. In no other way can his remarks be interpreted. Let us consider the hazy estimates of revenue and expenditure which have been given by competent authorities from time to time in order to see what a leap in the dark, from the defence point of view, we are asked to take. In 1901 Mr. R. E. O'Connor, who was then Chief

Engineer of Western Australia, estimated the cost at about £[4,400,000. He was a very competent authority, and I believe the author of a daring and most useful scheme for bringing water down to Kalgoorlie. Judged in the light of that achievement I should say that, from the engineering point of view, his opinion was equal to that of any man in Australia. In a subsequent report I think he modified his estimate by admitting that he had not allowed £[200,000 a year for the interest on the cost of construction. An Engineers' Conference, which sat some time afterwards, made an estimate of £[4,559,000, and Mr. Deane estimated the cost at £[4,045,000. According to his last report, if internal combustion engines are used, the cost will be brought down to £[3,839,000. Nobody seems to know what internal combustion engines are. With all respect! to Mr. Deane, not even he himself seems to know. It is said that very learned men at times become very childish, and when the consulting engineer of the Commonwealth solemnly reduces an estimate of £4,°45>000 to £3,839,000 on the supposition of the possibility of internal combustion engines being used-

Senator Henderson - His was the only estimate based on a survey.

Senator ST LEDGER - I understand that. His original estimate was £[4,045,000. He practically admits that nobody can tell whether internal combustion engines can be economically used, or, indeed, will be used. Yet, in his last report he reduces that estimate in all simplicity or solemnity by about £[230,000 or £[240,000.

Senator Pearce - The use of these engines is being discussed in the engineering world to-day.

Senator ST LEDGER - Exactly so; but it stands out in the very face of his report that Mr. Deane knows little or nothing definite about the economic effect of using these engines on a railway. It is absolutely conjectural. I do not wish at this hour to traverse his report on that point. It is clear to the ordinary schoolboy - and Mr. Deane himself admits that he is somewhat indefinite as to the use of these engines. We must consider the country to be traversed by the line, notwithstanding that the Government may be able to force their proposal through. I propose to consider briefly some aspects of the country in order to show the possibility of the railway ever becoming . a paying proposition.

Speaking about the character of the country, Mr. Deane says in his last report -

About S02 miles from Kalgoorlie, Tarcoola is reached and gold mining is becoming fairly prosperous.

At one time, Tarcoola gave us some hope, but I think that, at the present time, it is little better than a place with a few fossickers, who, possibly, are eking out a bare existence. In mining circles, I know it is regarded as a lost and hopeless proposition at present.

Senator Sayers - No one would take shares in a mine at Tarcoola.

Senator ST LEDGER - No; one could get a bucketful of shares for a drink. To set it down in an official report in all solemnity that Tarcoola is a place where gold mining is becoming fairly prosperous is simply to play on our credulity, and that is what I object to in these documents. Mr. Deane continues -

From a point west of Tarcoola to Port Augusta the country is unoccupied, having been taken up for sheep runs.

If the country was able to carry sheep, there must have been some population to look after them. This kind of report writing is more or less an insult to the Senate, and not creditable, as to accuracy at any rate, to the writer. According to this sentence, the country having been taken up for sheep runs, there are no sheep there and no population. What was the intention in penning that sentence? It was to convey the impression that sheep runs were taken up, that the sheep were there, and would provide a population just as wherever sheep have been settled in other parts of Australia settlement has followed the sheep, and a railway has followed in their wake. We know, as a matter of fact, that if sheep runs were taken up west of Tarcoola they were abandoned, and that the whole country between Tarcoola and Port Augusta is more or less a desert. In his report, Mr. Deane continues -

On the top and sides of these tablelands nutritious herbage, chiefly saltbush, grows. The tablelands consist of sandstone formations more or less denuded, the surface of the land being covered with very hard sandstone fragments.

According to this report, that is the character of the country which extends for many miles. There is no doubt that we are asked to buy a gold brick. I think that our official advisers and engineers are not playing fairly with Parliament when they pretend to give more or less conjectural estimates of revenue from a line of this kind. I shall deal with that point later. I wish to quote from another portion of Mr. Deane's report, in order that we may, so to speak, actually traverse the line. He says -

Between Kalgoorlie and the edge of the Nullarbor Plain shallow bores have been put down, but in all cases the bedrock has been reached without sign of water.

Senator Blakey - There are plenty of bores here.

Senator ST LEDGER - When I am reading one of the most luminous engineering reports on this magnificent country - reading it slowly and deliberately, but with a certain amount of effect-

Senator Henderson - It is the shallow bores that tickle us.

Senator ST LEDGER - The senators from Western Australia become restive, and have no refuge left but some sort of silly personal gibe. However, 1 am going on -

Over this area catchment dams can be built or artificial catchments prepared. At Cor.donia, eighty-two miles, and the granite ridge at 107 miles east of Kalgoorlie, there are great rock catchments.

There are catchment areas, catchments, and dams, where, if rain should fall, it may be collected. The report goes on to say -

On the Nullabor Plains the State Government of Western Australia have carried out boring operations with success. At No. 3 bore on the railway route 344 miles from Kalgoorlie water was struck between 1,270 and 1,344 feet in beds of fine and coarse sand with hard bands and granite boulders, with hard granite at the bottom. The water stands in the bore about 420 feet from surface; there is a large supply, and it is of good quality, no salt, a little hard, but it is considered that it would be good for boiler purposes.

We need not go any further than that. According to this report by Mr. Deane, who is trying to put the best face possible on his pet project, there is no other part of Australia of which such damning observations could be made. I shall give one or two more quotations about this country through which we are asked to build a railway.

Senator Gardiner - Is this the country to which people from the Old Land are to be brought?

Senator ST LEDGER - I am very happy to be able to say that neither the Commonwealth Government nor the Government of Western Australia desire to bring any people from the Old Land to this particular country. There are millions of acres of good land in Western Australia on which it is possible to settle hundreds of thousands of people. These remarks bear upon an observation made by the Minister of Defence. If Western Australia does as the eastern States are doing, and fills up her available territory with people, I have no doubt that Australia will be able to consider the expenditure involved in the construction of a connecting line between the East and the West through this desert country. But the State Government of Western Australia are, no doubt, bringing pressure to bear upon the Commonwealth Government to commence the work of settlement at the wrong end. No more pertinent observation on this point could be made than that which was made by the Minister of Defence when he said that we need not regard the nature of the country between terminal points if, when they are connected, sufficient traffic can be developed between them to pay for the cost of the construction of the line over the unprofitable area. That is a sound, economic proposition which most Railways Commissioners would indorse, and it is justified by the past experience of Australia in railway construction. The Minister has pointed out how and when this railway might be considered from a business point of view, and might be submitted to this Parliament for serious consideration. When the Government of Western Australia have further proceeded with the work of settling the State as they. are settling the districts about Kalgoorlie, no one will be disposed to refuse to consider a business proposition for the construction of a railway bridging the continent. But the Government of Western Australia desire that the Commonwealth should take the whole risk in this matter, and the Minister of Defence is disregarding the economic proposition he submitted himself. I should like, by leave of the Senate, to be allowed to continue my remarks at the next sitting.

Senator McGregor - No; we could listen to the honorable senator for hours yet.

Senator ST LEDGER - This is not the first time I have been met in this way. I must punish myself because I cannot finish what I have to say at a reasonable hour tonight. I submit that I have made what is only a reasonable request.

Senator McGregor - Not after the time the honorable senator has wasted so far.

Senator ST LEDGER - I protest against the suggestion that a single word of the criticism I have offered upon this measure has involved a waste of the time of the Senate.

Senator McGregor - I am not referring to this Bill at. all, but to the waste of time 011 the Electoral Bill.

Senator ST LEDGER - Because I did what I believed to be my duty in dealing with the Electoral Bill, I am to be punished when I desire to consider a proposition of this kind.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator can go on for another hour.

Senator Chataway - No. Not according to the Minister of Defence.

Senator ST LEDGER - If I am to be compelled to conclude my speech to-night, I may as well do so as conveniently as I can. With all respect to the Minister in charge of the Bill, I think I am not' being treated fairly, and that an unfair task is being imposed upon me. The subject with which we are dealing is a vast one. It involves the expenditure of £[5,000,000 in connexion with an utterly unbusiness-like proposition. If public business required it, I should be prepared to yield ; but there is no reason for any undue haste in this matter, and no national interests justify the Government in pushing this Bill through. If I have to punish myself, I may have to punish the Minister also; but I shall cut down, as far as possible, the extracts I intended to read. I quote now from a description of the country through which this line will pass given by the Minister of Defence himself. He said -

The Nullarbor Plains are of vast extent. They extend for about 200 miles in Western Australia right into South Australia for 100 miles, and from the coast to about eighty miles north of the railway. All the Nullarbor Plain country is splendidly grassed.

When the honorable senator tells us that the Nullarbor Plain country is well grassed, he is drawing upon his imagination. If that country were well, grassed, we should have abundant evidence of it in the number of sheep and cattle upon it. But, as a matter of fact, there are very few, if any, stock upon it. I quote another sentence from the report of the engineer, Mr. Deane, which is rather refreshing. He says -

Whether anything can be done in the way of agriculture remains to be seen.

It does not remain to be seen, because this territory has been known for 100 years, and it is clearly not fit for agriculture. Mr. Deane goes on to say -

It has not yet been shown how small a rainfall will suffice for the nourishment of wheat and other crops. More rainfall observations ave imperative, and it is of vital importance to determine at what time of the year the rainfall occurs.

Then, after describing the scanty nature of the rainfall, he winds up that section of his report with the statement -

The mineral-producing area is not extensive. From Kalgoorlie the gold-bearing area extends about 60 miles in an easterly direction.

I defy any honorable senator to consider all these reports and say that it has not been abundantly proved that this railway will be one of the most difficult financial propositions ever submitted to a Parliament. I shall say only a few words on a matter arising out of the engineering propositions for the conversion of the gauges of our railways. A great battle is raging around that point. The engineering problem is whether lines on the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge should be converted to a gauge of 4- ft. 8J-in., or whether what might be called the standard gauge of the Commonwealth - 4-ft. 8j-in. - should be converted to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. In 1897 a conference met to determine the relative cost of the conversion of gauges. It is clear from this that before Federation the State Governments anticipated that a standard gauge would have to be adopted, and that one or two transcontinental lines would have to be constructed, and probably whether Federation was accomplished or not. As a matter of economic necessity, the State Governments were considering the construction of transcontinental lines, and were driven to consider at the same time the cost of the conversion of gauges. In 1897 there were 7,849 miles of railways constructed in Australia. Our railway mileage to-day extends to 15, 466 \ miles. The engineers reported that to convert the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge railways to 5-ft. 3-iri. gauge would cost £4,260,000 ; but that to convert the 5- ft. 3-in. gauge railways to the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge would cost only £2,360,000. That is to say, that there would be a saving of about £2,000,000 in the conversion of railways on the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge to the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge with a mileage of 7,849 miles. As our mileage of railway construction has since almost doubled what it was at the time the report to which 1 refer was written, it follows that the conversion of the existing 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge railways to a gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. would involve an additional cost of about £3,500,000 as compared with the cost of converting the 5-ft. 3-in. to the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge. If we are to enter into the battle of the gauges, that point must be seriously considered. Honorable senators must understand that the cost of conversion in any case will be immensely expensive ; and if it is to be increased by £3,500,000 in order to secure a conversion of the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge to the 5-ft. 3- in. gauge, the proposition will be almost economically impossible. The State Governments in 1897 evidently considered the possibility of a transcontinental railway connecting Perth with Brisbane, and the 4- ft. 8j-in. gauge "was recommended,, probably because that was the gauge adopted by the State of New South Walesand it would be less expensive to convert the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge railways to that gauge. This recommendation was made long before the Federal Parliament had' assembled, and it is clear that the State Governments must have considered the question from this point of view.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - If I am not asking the honorable senator to be toodefinite, perhaps he will say what gauge he intends to support?

Senator ST LEDGER - I have condemned the Bill - bell, book, and candle;, but I think that the Government will be well advised, if they cannot adopt a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge and can find the money with> which to pay for a 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge, toadopt the latter.

Senator Lynch - Does the honorable senator really suggest that we should construct this line upon a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge?

Senator ST LEDGER - If the fight upon the Bill is to resolve itself into oneof the width of gauge, I am, to a large extent, with the Government.

Senator de Largie - Surely the honorable senator would not vote with them.

Senator ST LEDGER - I shall not: vote for the Bill at any stage. The length of the proposed line is about 1,100 miles. Taking the lowest price at which a 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge has been constructed, namely,, a little less than £3,000 per mile-

Senator Pearce - Fifty-seven miles of railway have been constructed for about: £1,200 per mile.

Senator ST LEDGER - Where doesthe Minister get his information?

Senator Pearce - From Knibbs' last" Year-Book.

Senator ST LEDGER - The line towhich I refer, and which was constructedupon a 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge, cost nearly £3,000 per mile.

Senator Pearce - Look at page 713 of the last edition of Knibbs' Y ear-Book.

Senator ST LEDGER - I venture to say that this line will not be constructed for very much less than £3,000 per mile, so that the total expenditure to which the Bill will commit us will be more than £4,000,000.

Senator Givens - I would like to have all the money that it will cost in excess of £3,000 per mile.

Senator ST LEDGER - When we consider that the lowest cost at which a line upon the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge has been constructed is slightly less than £3,000 per mile, and when we recollect that that line traverses wellsettled, well-watered, and well-wooded country, whereas the proposed transcontinental railway will be constructed through country where there is practically no water and no wood, we must recognise that the cost of building it will considerably exceed £3,000 per mile. We have also to remember that the wages which will have to be paid will be 20 or 30 per cent, higher than those which were allowed for when the estimate was made, in addition to which the price of material has advanced 40 per cent.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Where did the honorable senator get his increase of 40 per cent, in the cost of material?

Senator ST LEDGER - Upon timber alone.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - The newspapers says that the increase has been only 15 per cent.

Senator ST LEDGER - As a matter of fact, I doubt if the timber that will be required for sleepers can be obtained for less than 50 per cent. advance upon the price which prevailed four or five years ago. My authority for that statement is the constructing engineer of one of the biggest States in Australia.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I would like to hear the honorable senator make that statement when the timber cutters want an additional 2d. or 3d. per day in their wages.

Senator ST LEDGER - We will deal with that matter when it arises. There is just one other point to which I desire to Tefer. Less than twelve months ago I saw a report from the Defence Department to the effect that one of the great objections to the adoption of a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge as the standard gauge was that it would prob ably take sixty days to transport 30,000 or 40,000 troops from Sydney or Melbourne to Rockhampton.

Senator Pearce - That was owing to the break of gauge.

Senator ST LEDGER - The break of gauge does not affect the question very materially. The report was directed chiefly to the supposed demerits of the 3- ft. 6-in. gauge. I think that those figures were entirely misleading. In support of my statement I would point out that last year 13,259,000 passengers, or 1,100,000 per month, or 35,000 per day, were carried over the Queensland railways. The average length of the journey was 79 miles. That number of passengers was carried under the ordinary time-table and with the ordinary engines. Upon a 4- ft. 8½-in. gauge it is possible to carry more passengers daily, and only an expert of a certain character would suggest that in time of war, with the assistance of the whole of the engines of the States, we could not carry more than 30,000 troops daily over the two gauges. I do not altogether rely on the railway reports, but rather on the authority of one of the ablest railway transport agents in the Commonwealth. When I spoke to him he told me that if the officers of the Department did not know more about defence than they did about railway transport, they should be relegated to a position where they would be of less danger to the national safety. He went on to say that with a 3-ft. 6-in gauge he could, with the consent of the New South Wales railway authorities, shift 100,000 troops from Sydney to Longreach. A great deal of twaddle has been talked about gauges; but, apart altogether from that, I shall, for the reasons I have given, oppose this Bill at the second-reading and at every other stage.

Debate (on motion by Senator Millen) adjourned.

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