12 March 2011

Review by the Legislative Council

The second stage of the parliamentary process involved the review of the Assembly’s legislation by the Legislative Council.  The Council was at the time an unelected body, appointed by the colonial governor.

The legislation was formally introduced to the Council on 7 December 1899 and debated during the Second Reading stage on 14 December.

The Council’s consideration of the legislation was not as exhaustive or comprehensive as that which occurred in the Assembly.  However, it was notable in several ways. 

One may have expected that opposition to the legislation would have dissipated following the comprehensive decision of the Assembly only three weeks previous.  This was not the case.  In opposition to the legislation the Hon Mr G H Cox noted the substantial public meeting held in Mendooran (Mundooran) opposing selection of the Dubbo to Coonamble route.

The Honourable Mr Cox also reported the strong concerns of the Cobborah (sic) Railway League, and joined with the League in its condemnation of the poor rainfall in the selected route.  In very strong parliamentary language which was ultimately also proven very wrong, he described the 40 miles to Gilgandra as being very poor and ‘unsuitable for either agricultural or pastoral purposes’.

Opposition to the proposed railway again involved the Railway Commissioners.  This time the entire letter at the centre of the controversy from the Commissioners was read into the Hansard record of debate.  This part of the debate also noted the willingness of several graziers along the Mudgee route to donate land for that line’s construction.

While there was a considerable rehashing of the relative merits of the Mudgee route over the Dubbo to Coonamble railway, only one new argument of substance was raised.  The Honourable Mr Cox noted the need for the harnessing of what he considered to be the second greatest wheat producing area of the Colony, between Mudgee and Coonamble.  It would be necessary in his view that this region be developed immediately in order to offset the deleterious impact of farmers in the Murray region forwarding their produce to Melbourne once Federation and railway links in that region were properly established.  In short the Castlereagh region would supplant the Riverina as the cereal bowl of New South Wales.

Those supporting the Dubbo to Coonamble railway also relied extensively on the arguments already ventilated in the junior chamber of the legislature.  In proposing the Bill the Honourable Mr J A H Mackay stated that ‘this seems to me to be a line about which there can be hardly any cavil, because it is a line to which the district is undoubtedly entitled’. 

The Honourable Member also made it clear that the debate over the legislation should not be seen as a debate over the competing merits of the two rival routes.  He explicitly stated that if the legislation was not to pass that evening it would be ‘many years’ before Coonamble would see a railway line as the Government was opposed to a Mudgee to Coonamble solution.

His Honour also introduced a single new reason for the construction of the Dubbo to Coonamble route.  He noted that the Mudgee route locked Castlereagh district farmers and graziers into the Mudgee and Sydney markets only.  However the Dubbo route would enable the same farmers to transport agricultural product to the western districts in New South Wales; to Bourke and beyond.  He noted that this would not only benefit the producers in the Castlereagh but also those farmers in the far west as transport costs of fodder would be reduced substantially in times of drought.

The final sting for the proposed Mudgee line was brought to the debate by the Honourable W J Trickett, who raised the evidence given by a traffic manager of the Mudgee line to the Parliamentary Committee.  It had been the evidence of the manager that the Mudgee line was unsafe in parts due to slippages in alignment around the Capertee area and that it was necessary to operate a ‘pilot (engine) every night in front of each train’. 

His Honour drew on the manager’s estimate that at least ₤100,000 would be required to build a deviation around the problematic area, thereby raising the real construction cost of the Mudgee option to nearly ₤600,000, almost three times the cost of the Dubbo route.

The debate over the legislation occupied almost all of the entire sitting on 14 December 1899.  However it should be noted that the Council’s hours were far more leisurely, having commenced at 4:00pm on that day.  So it was, as the anointed time for the evening repast approached, that the Government’s legislation was passed by a clear majority of members shortly after 6:00pm.

The Council’s final consideration of the legislation occurred on its next sitting day, 19 December 1899.  This was the formality known as the Third Reading of the Bill.  Thankfully, it required only cursory attention from the honourable members.  The Bill was through!

The final step of the legislative process involved the granting of Royal Assent.  This occurred on 22 December 1899, which was three days following Parliament’s final approval and a year precisely from the day that the proposal had been referred to the Public Works Committee.

So nearly two decades after first being proposed the residents of the Talbragar, Coalbaggie, Balladoran, Gilgandra, Gulargambone and Coonamble districts received a near-Christmas gift unparalleled in its capacity to bring prosperity, civilisation and happiness to those seeking the closer settlement of the region.

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