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Wednesday, 3 November 1954


Senator McCALLUM (New South Wales) .- I move-

(1)   That a select committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the development of Canberra in relation to the original plan and subsequent modifications, and matters incidental thereto.

(2)   That the committee consist of seven senators to be appointed in a subsequent resolution.

(3)   That the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to move from place to place, and have leave to report from time to time its proceedings and the evidence taken.

(4)   That the committee report to the Senate on or before 1st October, 1955.

I wish first to establish the responsibility of the Senate in this matter. Under the Constitution, Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory are directly under the control of the National Parliament. All subsidiary control is subject to review by the Parliament or either House of the Parliament. The Senate is not, as many people imagine, merely an appendage of the Constitution. It is not in the position of a State upper house or, indeed, of any other upper house in the world. In its powers, it is far superior to any other upper house in the British Commonwealth of Nations. The only upper house that I know of in the world that has more important functions is the Senate of the United States of America upon which this .Senate was modelled. The committees appointed by the Senate have roles that stem not from any upper house but from the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Therefor, if the Senate undertakes the responsibility I ask it to undertake, it will not be usurping the functions of any other organization. It will be asserting its own function as a guardian of this city.

I shall state briefly the purposes of the committee that I have in mind. As honorable senators will notice from the motion that I have submitted, the proposal is stated in broad and general terms. I have phrased it in such a way that the committee would not be hampered by lack of power in any inquiry it chose t,o undertake. Nevertheless, I do not propose - nor did I have in mind - merely a general excursion into the affairs of Canberra. I believe that when the committee is appointed and meets, it will find certain specific matters to which it can direct its attention. Before I refer to those I have in mind in detail, I emphasize that we do not want to interfere with anybody or any organization associated with Canberra that is functioning to good purpose. The city is under the administration of the Minister for the Interior, and I am one of those who have great respect for the present Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes). I believe that he is doing his work very well. There is a National Capital Planning and Development Committee. I do not know whether it is doing all the work it should be doing, or whether it has all the powers that it should possess. I am inclined to think that its powers are too limited, but I do not suggest that we should interfere with that body. I merely suggest that we should inquire into what it is doing, and ascertain whether its work should be supplemented. There is an Advisory Council and, finally, there is the Public "Works Committee, which is a joint committee of the two Houses of Parliament. I believe that certain of the matters with which the proposed committee might be concerned are already under examination by the Public Works Committee. I presume that the proposed committee would do nothing to interfere with that work, but would wait for the report of the Public Works Committee, which will probably be ready shortly. The committee that I propose would take up its examination of the facts from that point.

I wish to give honorable senators now a general idea of the matters into which I believe we could inquire. First, I suggest that the committee might consider the departures, and proposed departures, from the original plan for Canberra and their effect. Some departures from the plan are proposed now, and they have caused grave disquiet to honorable senators, members of the House of Representatives and the citizens of Canberra. I do not propose to canvass at present whether that disquiet is justified. That, is something into which the proposed committee could inquire. Secondly, I believe we should inquire whether administrative and advisory organizations are functioning as well as they should, and in that connexion, whether Canberra has adequate and full representation on those bodies. It has representation, and I believe it is worthy representation, but probably it needs more numerous and more effective representation. Thirdly, I suggest that an inquiry should be made into roads, parks, architecture and anything connected with the general plan of the city. To mention only one matter, it has become fairly obvious to many people that most of the roads in Canberra are too narrow. They were designed when motor traffic was no more than a curiosity. I believe that they were designed with, the idea that city traffic would never go faster than 15 miles an hour. That means that at present they must be dangerous.

Some persons may get the idea that the purpose of the proposed committee would be to sponsor extravagant expenditure. On the contrary, I believe that it would prevent extravagant expenditure. Such extravagance in the long run gives a poor return. A policy of insisting on nothing but the best pays in the long run. I blame nobody for the many errors that have been made in Canberra. As honorable senators know, many of them were the result of World War II. During the war, it was necessary to try all sorts of temporary expedients, and after the war, that line was continued, but I hope that we can look forward confidently to a number of years of peaceful development. The time has come when we should ensure that nothing is built in this city that is not durable or worthy of the place.

I -wish to refer briefly to the one city from which we can take an example. That is Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States of America. The whole conception of Canberra was based on Washington. America had the same problems as those that confronted the founders of Canberra. There were different States, and it would have been impossible to pick a capital, or even a city, in the States as being worthy of representing the whole nation. So, they hit on the expedient of a federal district and. a federal city. We copied that concept. The Americans began with a fine design. Washington was designed by Major Pierre L'Enfant, a French engineer, who had fought for the Americans in the War of Independence. He was a good soldier and a fine engineer, and his planning was of a high order considering the time in which he planned it - about 1790. The city was started on that plan. The Capitol, the White House and a few other places were erected in accordance with the plan, but, after a few years, the plan was abandoned and Washington became a city of great contrasts. In the time of Lincoln, during the Civil War, some living quarters were squalid and slums developed, as the copious novels and histories dealing with the Civil War have revealed. That was the result of the departure from the plan and the haphazard way of building the city. Gradually those responsible returned to the plan, and it is interesting to record that the great series of developments that have made Washington one of the greatest cities in the world were encouraged in 1900 by Senator McMillan, who was chairman of the Senate Committee on Washington. Many great alterations were made -in accordance with his report. Railroads that had been allowed to go to the centre of the city were taken out at heavy cost. If an estimate could be made of the cost to Washington of departure from the original plan, and efforts to go back to it, I am sure that it would amount to many millions of dollars.

We are in a period of development when it will not be so costly to build Canberra according to plan. We already have quite a number of good buildings, and the suburbs have been formed. Nobody would want to interfere with that progress, but a large part of Canberra is still gardens or parks or virgin country. Modifications could be made, if necessary, without resumptions or tearing down buildings or making other physical changes of that nature. Therefore, this is the time to act. In 1910, President Tait set up a Commission of Fine Arts for Washington, and it was given a charter much wider than the charter that has been given to any advisory body in Canberra. Since then, Washington has become one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has one disadvantage compared with Canberra that might surprise some honorable senators. It has a much worse climate, or a climate that is not so good as that enjoyed by Canberra. The variation in temperature in Washington is from 17 degrees below zero to 108 degrees Fahrenheit.


Senator Maher - With high humidity.


Senator McCALLUM - In addition, as Senator Maher has reminded, me, during more than one season of the year the humidity is high. I asked the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Makin), who was formerly Australian Ambassador to Washington, to describe the climate. He said that at times the climate was admirable. In the American fall or autumn, the climate could not be better, but during other seasons, notably midsummer, it was one of the worst in the world. Canberra has one of the best climates in the world. I know that the icy breezes disturb honorable senators from northern parts of Australia, but those who were bred in the highlands of Australia or Scotland or elsewhere welcome the icy breezes. I believe that they stimulate mental activity.

At this point, I make an appeal to the Senate. To-night, I am talking to honorable senators, not to men or women of any political party or any group. I am not one of those who condemn this Senate because it is a party house on many measures. That is necessary and inevitable. Democracy cannot function without political parties. That is a lesson of history. But there are certain measures - and this motion is one of them - on which this Senate should rise above parties, or act aside from party affiliations, because there can be only one opinion on them. I am sure every honorable senator wishes to make this capital a great and worthy city. Every great nation has had a city as the focal point for its civic affairs, a place for men of learning and houses of worship. I believe it was an old Jew who said, " When I forget thee, oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning". Rome, Paris, London, Edinburgh and Washington are all great names. Canberra has been derided as the bush capital. I do not regard that as a term of reproach. The person who does not love the bush is not a true Australian. If the bush means isolation, the absence of the things that make for good living, we do not want that, but if the bush means a place where there is open space and than smell of the gum trees, let us have the bush. I thank heaven that we have only to walk outside the doors of Parliament House to be surrounded by some of the most magnificent trees in the world belonging to our own and other countries.

I ask every honorable senator to consider this matter very carefully. This is a moment when we can all speak as Australians. Simply by setting up a committee of inquiry, we can arrest any vicious tendencies that have crept into the growth of this city and give an impetus to every worthy tendency. I know that this House has much important business to do, and I do not wish todelay that business. I hope that this committee will be set up and that, as a result of its deliberations, this capital of ours will become and remain " a thing of beauty and a joy forever ".

Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.







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