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Friday, 27 September 1912

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I do not think that any honorable senator wishes to oppose any measure which is likely to develop the Northern Territory, since the Commonwealth has taken it over. Senator O'Keefe stated just now that it was the aim of the representatives of South Australia to attract the trade of the Territory to Adelaide.

Senator O'Keefe - That is their natural aim. If I were a South Australian, I would like to do that.

Senator VARDON - Then the honorable senator must learn that South Australians have risen a little above that position. I quite admit that that is the kind of game which the Queensland representatives are endeavouring to play. South Australia has never adopted a selfish policy, so far as this railway is concerned. Even when the transcontinental line is completed, I do not know that it will attract a great amount of trade to Adelaide, although Port Augusta may be the natural outlet of some of that trade. South Australia has made very great sacrifices for the sake of the Territory itself. In the first place she constructed the overland tele graph line from north to south as the initial step in the development of that Territory.

Senator Chataway - The honorable senator is referring to the time when South Australia broke faith with Queensland.

Senator VARDON - I do not think that South Australia has ever broken faith with any State. South Australians are not the sort of people to break faith with anybody. My honorable friend has an excited imagination. South Australia did make sacrifices for the benefit of the Territory.

Senator O'Keefe - She made a bargain, too.

Senator VARDON - She had every right to do so.

Senator Ready - Does the honorable senator think that South Australia did all that she could to develop the Territory prior to the Commonwealth taking it over?

Senator VARDON - I will deal with that aspect of the question. I will speak of what she did, and what she neglected to do. From first to last, all she had in view was the development of the Territory itself. That was her main object. The Territory admittedly possessed vast resources, and it was only right that an attempt should be made to develop them. Reference has been made to the agreement into which she entered with the Commonwealth, and to the bargain which she drove with it. But South Australia had carried a heavy burden in connexion with the Northern Territory for many years. She did not approach the Commonwealth with a view to the latter taking it over. The overtures proceeded, in the first instance, from Mr. Deakin, who recognised that South Australia was carrying a heavy burden, and one which the Commonwealth ought to shoulder. Consequently, he made advances to Mr. Thomas Price, who was the Labour Premier of South Australia at the time, and negotiations were carried on with a view to securing the transfer of the Territory. Naturally, when South Australia thought of handing over the Territory to the Commonwealth one of her first considerations was, " What about railway communication? " She had already constructed a line for a distance of 680 miles north of Adelaide, which was intended to be the beginning of a through line to Port Darwin. Having done so much, she naturally wished to be assured that, if the Territory were taken over by the Commonwealth, that line would be continued. She did not ask that a line should be started from Port Darwin and run out into Queensland. That would be of no use in developing the Territory. She asked for the construction of a line which would follow fairly closely the overland telegraph line, and which would really be a line of development. We opposed any deviation of that line, because such a deviation would not assist in the development of the Territory, which was the primary consideration.

Senator Ready - It would develop another State at the expense of the Territory.

Senator VARDON - I do not wish to put the matter in that way. That was a very fair position for South Australia to take up. I do not think it is fair to say that she drove a hard bargain when she made it part and parcel of the agreement with the Commonwealth that a line should be constructed through the Territory itself to connect Oodnadatta with Pine Creek. I take it that the Vice-President of the Executive Council has assured us that the line from Pine Creek to the Katherine is merely the beginning of a railway which will eventually link up those two places. Therefore, I ask, "Are the Government beginning to develop the Territory from the right end?" Is it better to begin railway construction at the northern end, and to proceed south, than it is to begin that construction at the south end, and proceed north? The Vice-President of the Executive Council has stated that the Government are acting on the advice of the Administrator. If the Administrator be a wise and practical man, they have a right to look to him for advice as to what they should do in regard to the development of this Territory. But I do not think that we have all the information that we ought to have in regard to this proposed line. We have no expert advice to show that Port Darwin is the best place at which to establish freezing works. In fact, a big diversity of opinion exists in regard to that matter. Many of those who are engaged in the cattle trade say that freezing works should be established in the country where the cattle are raised - that it would be better to slaughter the beasts on the spot, and simply to cart their carcasses to Port Darwin. I think we might have had some expert advice upon this question before we were invited practically to authorize the construction of this railway.

Senator McGregor - A question like that does not require much in the way of expert advice.

Senator VARDON - Will the VicePresident of the Executive Council say that he has made inquiries which satisfy him that Port Darwin is the right place at which to establish freezing works ?

Senator McGregor - I have said so already, and I will explain the position again.

Senator VARDON - There is a very great difference of opinion in regard to this matter. I should have liked some advice from those who have had experience of the meat trade as to whether the view taken by the Government is correct. Again, we have no information as to the number of cattle which is likely to be carried over this line.

Senator McGregor - I said it was estimated that it would be necessary to carry 10,000 cattle a month to keep the freezing works going. I can tell the honorable senator the number of cattle there is in the Territory, too.

Senator VARDON - But the VicePresident of the Executive Council did not say that these 10,000 cattle were likely to be carried over this line.

Senator McGregor - Yes.

Senator VARDON - That is a point upon which we ought to have information. It is idle to construct this line, and to establish freezing works at Port Darwin, if there is not going to be sufficient trade to keep those works continuously employed. Inregard to these matters, we ought to beplaced in possession of all possible information. I am .not at all sure that it would not be a good thing to appoint a permanent committee to inquire into all our big projected public works, and to submit reports upon them to Parliament for its guidance; So far, we have been given no estimate of either the receipts or the expenditure connected with the working of this line. I have never before known a railway proposition to be submitted to Parliament which did not set out the probable receipts and expenditure under it. I do not regard the proposed line in the light of a reproductive work. I look upon it merely as a line of development. It may not pay its way; but we ought to have some idea of what the traffic over it will be, and how far its probable receipts will go towards meeting the expenditure upon it. I notice, too, that the cost of the proposed survey is set down at £5>000-

Senator McGregor - It is estimated that it will cost £4,100.

Senator VARDON - That is a little information which honorable senators might have been given at the beginning of this debate. However, I am glad to know that £5,000 really represents a sum of ,£900 in excess of the estimated cost of the survey.

Senator McGregor - It may cost either a little more or a little less than the estimated amount.

Sitting suspended from z to 2.30 p.m.

Senator VARDON - Yesterday Senator Rae raised the question of whether, by starting this railway from the north and running into the interior of Australia, we were not playing into the hands of a possible enemy. Port Darwin being a weak spot, an enemy landing there would, he said, secure railway communication into the heart of the country. There may be something in that point ; but, on the other hand, the construction of the railway may bring a greater number of people into the Territory, and that may be a great advantage from a defence point of view. At all events, I do not look upon the construction of the line as a menace in that aspect. The question has been asked why we should start from the northern end, rather than from Oodnadatta. The Commonwealth, having taken over the Territory, has assumed responsibility for the railway already constructed from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta. I am sorry that it has to be admitted that there is a loss of ,£80,000 a year on that line. It is very possible that, by carrying the railway northwards from Oodnadatta, we might do something to minimize the loss, or wipe it out altogether. Senator Story, speaking on a motion of his own last night, read some interesting reports as to this country and its resources from men who had been over it. It is admitted that the country to the north of Oodnadatta becomes richer. At present the line ends in a cul de sac. The country is of little or no use, except, perhaps, for horse breeding. But if the railway were carried as far as the MacDonnell Ranges, where there are known to be rich mineral deposits, it might lead to considerable development. Nothing is more calculated to attract population than a rich gold- field, and when people get to a place, they look around for other means of development. These points constitute a good argument for commencing the railway from Oodnadatta. Senator Chataway this morning read us a lecture because of our want of patriotism. It is absolutely certain that what the Queensland representatives have been hungering for is to get the trade of the Territory carried into their State.

The honorable senator quoted a report from Mr. Justice Herbert, who lived in the Territory for a considerable time, and waB for some time Administrator. I am prepared to give every consideration to what Mr. Herbert says. Even though I may not agree with all his conclusions, 1 give him credit for his sincerity. He has no axe of his own to grind. But when Senator Chataway quotes from a report from some Professor Wallace, I challenge him to say whether that gentleman was ever in the Territory in his life, or ever saw an acre of land there. If he was not, what is the value of his criticisms ?

Senator McGregor - I think they applied only to the country from Hergott.

Senator VARDON - If that is what Senator Chataway meant, it was not a bad thing for Professor Wallace to recommend the planting of date palms, because undoubtedly they will grow there. Whatwe in South Australia desire is the development of the Territory in the best possible way. There was a reason for the State giving up the management of, and responsibility for it, because this Parliament had decided upon a White Australia policy, and an immigration restriction policy, and it was, therefore, " up to" the Commonwealth Parliament to take over the development of the Northern Territory, so as to preserve the White Australia policy there. South Australia had good reason for not undertaking the construction of the railway beyond Oodnadatta. Very bad times occurred ; we were afflicted by a series of drought years, and the resources of the State were strained. Railway construction had to be postponed until better times arrived. We were simply waiting for better seasons.

Senator Guthrie - South Australia offered the Territory to the London moneybrokers.

Senator VARDON - That is about as accurate as the statements my honorable friend often makes.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator knows that a Land Grant Bill was passed in South Australia.

Senator VARDON - Even if such a Bill were passed, it did not give away the whole Territory.

Senator Guthrie - It gave away a large portion of it.

Senator VARDON - We had to hold our hands with regard to the continuation of the railway, in the Territory. I am sorry that when seasons turned, and revenue became more abundant, South Australia did not immediately have the courage to construct the railway from Oodnadatta into the MacDonnell Ranges. That would have opened up the good country and would have absolutely assured railway construction from south to north. I do not feel justified in opposing this Bill. It represents part of the Government's developmental policy. Whether it be right or wrong, the responsibility must be theirs. I think we ought to have had more information on certain points, but the Government must take the responsibility for that also. If the policy be a success, so much the better for them; if it be a failure, they will be to blame. But, whatever is done in the way of developing the Northern Territory, I hope that we shall be successful in our aims, and that the best interests of the country will be conserved.

Debate (on motion by Senator de Largie) adjourned.

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