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Saturday, 16 December 1905


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am a member of the Commonwealth Parliament, but I also represent the State of New South Wales, and. am bound to put the views of the people of that State before this assembly, especially since the Minister confined himself to stating the case for the Commonwealth. It would perhaps be well to set aside- the history, of this matter, which was gone into by the Minister.


Mr Frazer - The honorable member is going to do that, because it would not suit his argument to do otherwise.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I intend to take this course, in order to avoid any display of feeling in connexion with the matter. I should regard it as the act of an enemy to New South Wales if one were to tryto make any stronger the feeling which now exists. The matter must be considered as dispassionately, impartially, and impersonally as we can consider it. No doubt the language which has been used hitherto has created friction and contributed to delay. I regret the very strong language used by the Premier of New South Wales yesterday; but the language used in the Senate, which provoked his remarks, was equally strong and regrettable. Nothing could have been more unjust than many of the statements recently made in the Senate on this subject. So far as that is concerned, honours are at least even, so far as we are concerned, and we may very well dismiss from our minds that personal view of the case which, I fear, is colouring the consideration of this question at the present moment.

It is well known that matters might have assumed a different aspect, both in this House and in. the other Chamber, had it not been "for the feeling provoked, and for the personal considerations which have been allowed to influence honorable members. In justification for the Premier of New South Wales, I may point out that he is not the only Premier who has used strong language with regard to the Federal Parliament. Strange to say, however, his remarks alone have attracted serious attention. The Premier of Western Australia recently announced from the public platform that, unless full and fair consideration were given to the claims of the transcontinental railway, he would head a movement for the secession of that State from the Commonwealth. I think that that is an infinitely stronger statement than any uttered by Mr. Carruthers. Yet we did not hear a word about it from honorable members representing Western Australia, who have " got their backs up" with Mr. Carruthers over the Capita] Site question. Mr. Carruthers specially begged of the New South Wales Assembly not to consider the question of secession at all. Furthermore, he declared that he would not countenance secession for a moment, but that his sole object was to make a firm and dignified protest against the action of the Commonwealth Parliament. When honorable members interjected, and suggested that he should head a secession movement, he immediately deprecated all reference to the subject. Not only! the Premier of Western Australia, _but the Premier of Queensland has, from time to time, commented very strongly upon the action of this Parliament. Therefore, it is not fair for honorable members to give undue consideration to any language which may have been used by Mr. Carruthers. We should eschew all feeling, and betake ourselves to a consideration of the merits of the case. I do not propose to make any charges or statements of a personal character. After all, personalities will not help us at all, and I deeply regret that, they should have already found entrance to this Parliament, and have coloured the :view of honorable members in considering this matter. In my judgment, we are not called upon, in our selection of the Capital Site, merely to placate Mr. Carruthers or the people of New South Wales. Our first duty is to make a selection which will honour the bond entered into with the State. It is not a question of placating any man in New South Wales. We can afford to ignore any such consideration as a triviality. It is our sacred duty to liberally interpret the bond entered into with New South Wales, and carry it out in the spirit as well as in the letter. The Min ister, ' in introducing these proposals, went into the history of the matter. I do not propose to follow him, but not because a reply could not be made. The history of the case discloses that the initial mistake was made when Sir John. See declined to take any responsibility in regard to the selection of the site. He certainly offered certain sites, and gave certain instructions, but when asked by this Parliament to assume the responsibility, which properly attached to him, he definitely declined to do so. Therefore, he must always stand charged with the complete abnegation of his Ministerial responsibility. We may credit him with having taken a mistaken view of his constitutional position, but it is clear that at the point to which I refer the negotiations took a 'wrong course. Moreover, when the instructions were issued to Mr. Oliver to report upon certain sites prior to their being offered to the Commonwealth, the terms of the compact entered into at the Premiers' Conference appear to have been completely lost sight of. They were, 9 however, recognised to the full in Sir Edmund Barton's letters. In his first communication, Sir Edmund Barton clearly and fully recognised the constitutional position. He asked " if the State Premier would make offers of sites within territory within which the Capital is to be situated." Therein, I think that he took up the correct position. The question remains - " What is the territory indicated by the Constitution within which the Capital Site may be situated?" This brings us to the kernel of the whole position, and, had a fair interpretation been placed upon the Constitution at the time to which I have referred, the reports and offers which were made would not have been made. I have not been to see Dalgety or Tooma. I have steadily declined to be made a party to an investigation of these sites, because, in my judgment, neither of them comply with the bond entered into with New South Wales. It has always seemed to me to be a waste of time to consider sites which practically outrage the compact entered into between the States Premiers. I have inspected sites which I regard as eligible for selection within the terms of the bond, but I have not investigated other sites away on the border line of the State, because of the preliminary objection I have mentioned. Now, the Bill on its face recognises that the State of New South Wales has some rights. I venture to say that, when the Parliament passed the Seat of Government Act, many honorable mem bers were not fully seized of the constitutional aspect of the question. They were certainly not fully seized of it in the light of the subsequent Conference of Premiers, and the explanations they gave. Therefore, I would ask honorable members not to consider that we have irrevocably selected a site at Dalgety. I hope that this House will always be able and willing to rectify a mistake. The Act we have already passed ought not to be regarded as unalterable. I thoroughly believe that honorable members have a sufficient sense of fairness and justice to amend the Act, if it can be shown that there are good grounds for doing so ; and I wish to address myself to the question of the original compact, in order 10 ascertain whether it has been observed by us. I have already stated that the Bill recognises that New South Wales has rights. The provisions of the Bill are conditioned all through upon a grant to be made by New South Wales. If the right to make a grant is recognised, we must also acknowledge the right of the State to have its opinion fully and freely expressed as to what grant shall be made. Further, if the State may make a grant, it mav also refuse to do so. Surely, the right to grant carries with it the right of refusal. If not, why should not the Bill be framed with a view to the acquirement of a site, with a view to empower the Minister to peg out the necessary territory. Unless New South Wales grants a site, the Bill will become an absolute dead letter. Even the acquirement of the territory is made conditional upon its being granted by New South Wales. This recognition of the right of New South Wales carries us a step further. The Bill in itself becomes a perfectly idle proposal, so far as the establishment of the Capital is concerned. The New South Wales Government have specifically declined, to make the grant of Federal territory spoken of in the Bill, and in view of that fact, is it not idle for the Government ' 10 introduce this measure, with a view to the settlement of this very important question? Reverting to the utterances of Mr. Carruthers on this question, now that the Western Australian members are present, I would point out that when we hear Other Premiers in Australia openlv advocating secession, we need not attach so much importance to the language of the Premier of New South' Wales.


Mr Mahon - Does cne man's folly justify the folly of another ?


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; but apparently that is the case here. We have been told that honorable members will not consent to reconsider this question, because of certain statements which have been made by Mr. Carruthers. That was the dominant note in the discussion which took place in the Senate the other day.







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