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Friday, 1 December 1911

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - One would have thought that the Go vernment would have been glad of an expression of opinion by the Committee upon a matter of such importance as that which is now under consideration. But it appears to me that they treat honorable senators with contempt. On several occasions the Minister df Defence has spoken contemptuously of politicians. Probably he knows as much about politicians as does any man in the Senate, and perhaps he speaks with authority. But we are responsible to the country for the Government and for the proposed railway. I think, if those who are supporting the Government realize their duty to the community, they will place upon record their opinion in regard to the area of land which ought to be secured by the Commonwealth. They will say to the Ministry, " This is what we want you to get from the Governments of South Australia and Western Australia."

Senator Givens - It would strengthen their hands in negotiating with the State Governments.

Senator STEWART - That is my contention. But the Government do not seem to be like Moses. They do not want anybody to hold up their hands. They wish to enter into negotiations with the Governments of South Australia and Western Australia absolutely unfettered. They wishto be free to knuckle down to the extortionate demands of those Governments. The Western Australian Government has already shown its hand. It has offered us 3 chains of land along the route of» the proposed line. Does anybody imagine that the Commonwealth, when it enters into negotiations with that Government, will get any more than that? The Government of Western Australia knows perfectly well that the Commonwealth Government are anxious and eager to build this railway. I do not know why. They seem to be tumbling over themselves in their anxiety to embark upon an expenditure of £5,000,000, without any regard to what the consequences may be.Not only that, but they refuse to be assisted by the members of the Senate. Of course*, that is the fault of honorable senators themselves. If the Government choose to insult them by declining their advice, and if they are willing to take their gruel lying down, that is their affair. But it appears to me that we have a responsibility in regard to this railway greater than that of any Government, and I say that we are abandoning our responsibility by refusing to tie the hands of the Government in any shape or form. We ought to say what we think should be done.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator wishes to kill the Bill.

Senator STEWART - But I cannot kill the Bill ; and, that being so, I desire to make it as good a measure as possible. I think that every honorable senator is agreed that half-a-mile of country on either side of the railway ought to be reserved to the Commonwealth. The Leader of the Opposition, in putting forward that claim, has used an argument which is incontrovertible. If we believe his statement to be true, why should we not put it on record?

Senator Henderson - Because we do not believe it to be true. The idea of reserving half-a-mile for a roadway.

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator knows nothing whatever about Australia. He comes here and talks in the wildest and most ridiculous fashion. The engineers have recommended the reservation of half-a-mile on either side of the proposed line, and yet the Government of Western Australia has offered us 3 chains. I believe that, unless something is inserted in the Bill to tie the hands of the Government in this matter, the latter will agree to the reservation of the 3 chains.

Senator Lynch - Why does the honorable senator worry about a stock route?

Senator STEWART - I am worrying about the expenditure of the country's money, and about securing the construction of this line upon good conditions. But the honorable senator only worries about getting £5,000,000 expended in South Australia and Western Australia, and Senator Long is worrying about nothing but that Tasmania shall get her whack of what is to be cut up. I ask honorable senators to take a serious view of the position. Are they going to shirk their responsibility to the country? Here we are entering upon a new and untried policy. We are asked to spend £5,000,000 in a country about which nobody knows very much. It may turn out to be extremely fertile, or worth nothing, or something between the two. Nobody knows what it is. Being in that state of ignorance, honorable senators ought as representatives of the Commonwealth, to take their full share of the responsibility, and not to leave it to any Government, however worthy of confidence it may be. I do not suggest that the present Government is not worthy of confidence. But I would not trust any Government in a matter of this kind. I do not think that a Government ought to ask to be trusted. What the Government ought to do is to come down and say, "What do you want done? What do youthink is fair? We are here as your representatives to act." Instead of doing that they say, " Give us a blank cheque. You have nothing to do with the matter except to see us through, whether we make a mistake or not." I refuse to accept the position into which the Government tries to thrust the members of the Committee. Every honorable senator has a responsibility to the country, and he ought to stand up to it. He should not try to shirk his duty. He should accept his responsibility in a manly fashion, and do his duty to the country in the way in which it ought to be done.

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