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Wednesday, 2 October 1912

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I am speaking of a general policy. 1 am one of those who think that it will be very easy to spend millions of pounds in dribs and drabs in the Territory, and that the expenditure will be an absolute failure. I do not think that, 4n the policy so far outlined for the Territory - and necessarily it has been one of investigation and experiment - there has been anything but a mere playing with one of the biggest questions we have to deal with in' Australia. If it be possible to lay down - as we have done - a naval policy extending over a period of years, it ought to be possible for us to frame a policy for the Northern Territory upon similar lines. Although the Government have not directly committed themselves to Admiral Henderson's scheme of naval development, they have given a general support to it, with modifications which time may determine. I believe that in the Northern Territory we have a bigger problem to face than confronts us in connexion with our naval defence. If a policy for the Northern Territory were laid down for a number of years, we should then be in a position, to judge from year to year of how we could best give effect to that policy. The line from Pine Creek to the Katherine River will admittedly traverse difficult country. Consequently we cannot hope for much development in that portion of the Territory if we except the narrow belt of mineral country which the line will tap. That, however, will not aid its development very materially. I am not one of those who regard Port Darwin as the Northern Territory. I wish to see something done to promote the development of the heart of Australia. The reason advanced for the introduction of this Bill is that it is impossible to travel fat stock over that portion of the country which the proposed railway will traverse. We have been told that if an attempt were made to travel fat cattle over this 56 miles of Territory, they would become so reduced in condition that at the termination of their journey they would be merely stores.

Senator Stewart - What sort of country is it?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - With the exception of the mineral belt to which I have referred, the country for 200 miles south of Port Darwin is worthless.

Senator St Ledger - Certainly it is for cattle purposes.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - And for. agricultural purposes, too. But, admitting, that this line will form a portion of the direct railway to Oodnadatta, I ami strongly of opinion that we are commencing operations at the wrong end. In the first place, we have to consider the expense that will be incurred in taking the necessary materials for the railway to Port Darwin by water. Why we cannot adopt the common-sense policy of constructing the transcontinental line from south to north I utterly fail to understand.

Senator O'Keefe - If we commenced operations at the southern end, we should not reach the Katherine River for a long time, and meanwhile the development of that portion of the country would be hung up.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - It is not so much a question of whether we shall construct this 56 miles of railway. I am pledged to a non- borrowing policy except for reproductive works. But an expenditure of £500,000, or even £2,000,000, on the development of the Northern Territory by the construction of a line from Pine Creek south will represent only so much waste. I believe that the only way in. which we can effectively develop this Territory is by building a railway right through, it, from south to north. If such a line were constructed, I believe there is sufficient enterprise among the pioneer miners of Australia to warrant my statement that, within five years of its completion there would not be a square mile of that country which had not been thoroughly prospected. Unless minerals are discovered in payable quantities in the Territory, its development will be very slow indeed. Some have said that this country is a desert.

Senator Shannon - What- constitutes a desert ?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - If the country is absolutely bad, what is the use of spending ^500,000 or ^1,000,000 upon it ? But if the country be good, if it be likely to prove reproductive, why not afford the fullest opportunity for its development by white people? That result can only be accomplished by constructing the transcontinental line from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek. We have to consider the question of whether the Territory is worth attempting to develop from a mineral standpoint. In this connexion, we know perfectly well that it has only been scratched. The discovery of one Kalgoorlie or Broken Hill within its borders would do more towards its development in five years thun an agricultural policy would achieve in fifty years. I do not know that even Kalgoorlie could exist in the very heart of the ^Northern Territory isolated as it is to-day. That being so, what is the use of talking about developing the Territory by means of a few bullocks or experimental farms in the absence of means of communication? Senator Gould dealt with the question of large areas. What is the use of large areas if we have not means of communication ? Similarly, what would be the use of payable mining propositions in the Territory under present circumstances? I have been looking forward with some interest to an Australian policy in respect of the Northern Territory - a policy to which the people of this country could give their whole-hearted support. If the Territory is not worth building a railway through, the sooner we abandon it, and abandon our White Australia policy, the better, because we are only humbugging the people. I will never vote for a borrowing policy except in respect of some very big question or in extreme circumstances. I would like to see a big population established in northern Australia, irrespective of whether it comes from Europe or any other country across the sea. I believe that we can get people there if we only open up means of communication. To do .this requires the expenditure of money, and with that end in view. I am prepared to go to the extent of borrowing ^6,000,000, ^7,000,000, or even ^10,000,000.

Senator St Ledger - Hear, hear ! We have made a convert of the honorable senator.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I gave utterance to the same sentiment long before the honorable member entered this Parliament. I believe it would be better to establish a white population in the Northern Territory for the purpose of developing it than to spend a vast sum of money upon the defence of Australia, because that defence cannot be effective so long as our population is so small.

Senator St Ledger - We want the men behind the guns.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - But I do not suggest - as- the honorable senator's party does - that we should dump men down in our cities. I am in favour of developing the Northern Territory and Australia, where, I submit, there is room for tens of millions of people ; but 1 am not in favour of a policy which would dump down immigrants upon the wharfs around the city. I intend to give a general support to the Bill, not because of any great merit which is embodied in it, but because it contains nothing, which will interfere with that larger policy which I hope to see the Government submit before long. I trust that the measure is merely the forerunner of that better policy which Australians are anxious should be put into operation so far as this portion of our country is concerned.

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