Open main menu

Speight, Richard, late Chairman of the Railway Commission of Victoria, was brought up from boyhood in the service of the Midland Railway Company until he attained a responsible position on the management. In 1883, the Service-Berry Government having passed an Act transferring the management of the railways of Victoria from the political head of the department to a permanent board of three commissioners, it was decided to obtain the services of a first-class expert from England as chairman of the embryo board. In the result the choice fell upon Mr. Speight, and he arrived in Melbourne on Feb. 11th, 1884, to assume the duties of his responsible post, his colleagues being two local gentlemen, the late Mr. Agg and Mr. Ford. The new arrangement appeared to work excellently for a time, and when Mr. Speight's first term of seven years was nearing its expiry, negotiations for its extension were opened with him by the Gillies-Deakin Government. On their defeat at the end of 1890, Mr. Shiels, the new Minister of Railways in the Munro Government, assumed a tone decidedly unfavourable to the commissioners, and introduced a bill, which was subsequently carried, greatly curtailing their powers by rendering them more directly amenable to the authority of Parliament. Construction was to be taken out of their hands, and their duties were to be confined to practical management. On these terms Mr. Speight's reappointment was ultimately negotiated, but friction continued to prevail between the commission and the political head of the Railway Department. In 1892 Mr. Wheeler, the Minister of Railways in the Cabinet of which Mr. Shiels had now become head, demanded of the commissioners the suggestion of a scheme for effecting a very large retrenchment in the annual cost of working the state lines. The commission complied, but in a manner which gave dissatisfaction to the Government, the result being that they were summarily suspended from office till the pleasure of Parliament could be made known. When the Houses met after the General Election in April 1892, an address to the Crown was carried in the Assembly for the removal of the commissioners. In the meantime efforts were made to effect a compromise, with the result that Mr. Speight and his co-commissioners ultimately agreed with the Government to resign on being paid compensation for loss of office to the amount of half the salaries which would have accrued due to them had they continued in office till the expiry of their renewed engagements. The sum Mr. Speight received was £5,250.