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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The State Railways

The State Railways.

The railways in all the Australasian Colonies have with few exceptions been constructed by the State. This experiment, if such it can still be called, has not been found to be entirely satisfactory. Many lines have been constructed without reasonable prospect of remunerative return to satisfy localities and to secure to the Government the support of their representatives.

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The advocates of State Socialism may seek to justify this policy on the ground that facilities for locomotion should be provided for the community by the community, and that if it be desirable that collections and deliveries of letters should take place even where not remunerative, so it is desirable that every man should have reasonable facilities for railway travel.

In Victoria it was found that the pressure of constituencies on Members, and of Members on Ministers, made it impossible to conduct the administration of the railways in an economical Banner, and strictly upon commercial principles. A Board of Commissioners, independent of direct Parliamentary control, was therefore appointed in that Colony; and the example of Victoria has been followed by her sister Colonies.

In New South Wales and New Zealand a disposition has been shown to revert to the State administration previously in existence, and a Commission was appointed in the former Colony to inquire into the administration of the Commission in New South Wales.

The result of this Commission has been to show that the railways were far more economically administered under the Commissioners; that the charges of "sweating" labour were entirely groundless; and that while no man was paid a lower wage than seven shillings a day, the greater number received wages varying from seven-and-sixpence to eight shillings a day.

In Victoria, on the other hand, a disastrous state of affairs has been disclosed. The difference between the Budget estimate and the facts was ascertained to be something like a million and three-quarters, largely on railway account, and the system of direct political control has been reverted to in that Colony.

While in New Zealand the Ministry have proposed to Parliament that the Minister should himself be one of four Commissioners, with a second vote in case of equality, so that the Minister and one Commissioner would formulate the policy that should govern the State railways. This proposal has, however, been rejected by the Upper House, and the powers of the Railways Commissioners will now lapse in February next.