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Monday, 18 December 1905


Mr JOHNSON (Lang) - I hope that honorable members, in approaching the re consideration of this question, will entirely disregard all the proceedings which have led to so much irritation. Whilst I recognise that the Premier of New South Wales is perfectly entitled to take up the attitude that he has adopted in asserting the rights of the State, it is rather unfortunate that he has. taken his action at a time when there seemed to be some prospect of arriving by consultation at a satisfactory settlement of the Capital Site question. I trust that any feeling which' may have been aroused by his somewhat precipitate action, taken, I feel sure, without knowledge of the consultative proceedings among Federal members for securing a satisfactory understanding, will be allowed to evaporate, and that honorable members will endeavour to arrive at a settlement fair to all the States and beneficial to the Commonwealth. I fear that in years to come the selection of the Dalgety site will be looked upon as a monument to the stupendous imbecility of this Parliament. If .some honorable members had been a little more familiar with the characteristics of the site as to soil and climate, and other conditions. they would1 have agreed that it was, perhaps, one of the most unsuitable that could have been selected. It may be a very good spot at which to raise polar bears, but is not to be recommended as a place of residence for persons who have been accustomed to a warm and genial climate. The country immediately surrounding Dalgety is of an utterly inhospitable character. lit is desolate, rockstrewn, and practically bare of timber. Even the reports of the surveyors who originally reported on the site show that the vegetation is very stunted, and one passage in their report reads as follows : -

Even on the river banks the site is almost entirely destitute of timber, and this does not suggest the idea that parks and gardens will flourish.

Surely we should regard the facilities, which the site will offer for making parks and gardens. The site is also unsuitable in other respects. Dalgety is distant from Cooma 30 miles. There is a very good road between the two localities

Atthe present time, but the cost of a railway would be considerable. Dalgety is distant from Melbourne about 240 miles, and from1 Sydney over 330 miles. A railway to connect the site with Melbourne would have to be constructed from Bairnsdale, via Bendoc, at an estimated cost of about £1,500,000. The Cooma to Dalgety railway would cost about £312,000 ; and in order to connect the Federal City with all the States capitals - except Hobart, which, of course, cannot be connected by rail - an outlay of £8,483,683 would be involved. In addition, the sum of £120,000 would have to be spent on the Cooma railway to make it a first class line. Then, supposing that the terrilory were acquired other than by grant from the Government of New South Wales, a large expenditure would be incurred. The greater part of the Dalgety area consists of undulating treeless country, with frequent outcrops, of granite, and any one who visits the site must be struck with its inhospitable appearance. The occasional tufts of grass are bare on the one side, and are banked up with sand on the other. This, circumstance, taken in conjunction with the fact that buildings are shored up on the lee side with huge pieces of timber, indicates that it is absolutely a very exposed part of the country. The average temperature in summer is between 70 and 80 degrees, and I have rarely heard1 of a temperature exceeding the higher of these registers. I have been at Dalgety in midsummer, when a heat-wave has been passing oyer the State, and the thermometer has registered 106 degrees in the shade at Sydney. And yet I have been absolutely frozen whilst travelling, in a coach at night, and glad to avail myself of the opportunity to sit alongside a big log fire and thaw myself out on New Year's morning. I can quite conceive that the climatic conditions in midwinter are anything but agreeable. Mr. Scrivener says, in the latest report now before us -

The area of 100 square miles, as designed, embraces the land most suitable for city and suburban buildings, but within an area so small no serious attempt can be made to protect the water supply, neither can any source be embraced. It must be regarded merely as a city site.

That, of course, relates only to an area of 100 square miles, and the argument of -course is used to urge the acquisition of a larger area of territory, but it is not reasonable to expect the Government of Vew South Wales to grant such a large tract of country as has been suggested. Coming back to the question of cost, I find that, if the Commonwealth were to obtain 900 square miles of country, which is the area they appear determined to secure, the purchase-money would amount to £1, 216,000, according tq Mr. Scrivener's estimate of value. Then, again, the approximate cost of building a breakwater at. Twofold Bay, which some honorable members hope to see included in the Federal territory, would amount to £1,500,000, probably more. The figures I have quoted as being required for railwayconstruction, together with the amount necessary for the construction of the breakwater at Twofold Bay, and the amount that would have to be devoted to the purchase of the territory, represent a total of £11,949,683. Then, again, I am credibly informed that the cost of the railway toconnect Dalgety with Twofold Bay would amount to at least £6,000 per mile, or a? total of £750.000. to which has to beadded the sum of £120,000 new expenditure on the existing Cooma line. ' So that Over £12,000,000 would have to be expended before one shilling could be spent upon the work of erecting the Capital. Do honorable members think the State of" New South Wales will expend large sumsof money in giving railway access to territory they do not wish to grant? I would" point out to honorable members who voted" for the Dalgety site because they considered that it was important to have accessto the sea, that an opportunity presentsitself to secure a port much more suitableand more easy of access. All the country at the back of Jervis Bay, extending tothe railway line connecting Sydney and1 Melbourne, is sparsely populated, and I have no doubt whatever that a large portion of that territory would be readily granted by New South Wales. In fact, I have little doubt that a much larger area would be available there, and at .considerably less cost than at Dalgety. And JervisBay, as a port, is certainly infinitely preferable to Twofold Bay in every respect ; but I do not say I am prepared to advocate the surrender by New South Wales of" any port which may be used- to divert trade from the port of Sydney which must, from its facilities and geographical position, ever remain the principal port of Australia. It must be remembered that the people of New South Wales accepted the Constitution Bill because they expected that they would derive some substantial benefit from having the Federal Capital located within their borders. Sir Edmund Barton, during the Federal campaign, went so far as to say that the Capital would be located in such a position as to confer on Sydney substan- tial benefits in the matter of trade. We have departed from the spirit of the bond so far as that element is concerned. Dalgety is not within a reasonable distance of Sydney. It is true that it is beyond the 100-mile limit, but it is also almost as far away from that limit as any site possibly could be. The erection of the Federal Capital at Dalgety would confer no benefit upon New South Wales. In this connexion I wish to direct attention to the resolution that was passed at the Premiers' Conference with reference to the Federal Capital Site question. It reads as follows: -

It is considered that the fixing of the site of the Capital is a question which might well be left to the Parliament to decide ; but in view of the strong expression of opinion in relation to this matter in New South Wales, the Premiers have modified the clause, so that while the Capital cannot be fixed at Sydney or in its neighbourhood, provision is made in the Constitution for its establishment in New South Wales, at a reasonable distance from that city.

I admit that a great difference of opinion may exist as to what would be a reasonable distance from Sydney; but, at the same time, the words of the resolution have to be read in conjunction with the provision that the Capital shall be situated not less than 100 miles from Sydney. It might be fairly concluded that the site would be selected as near as possible to Sydney, outside the 100-mile limit. I understand that that limit was imposed primarily, for the purpose of excluding the choice of another site, which was in much favour - I refer to Moss Vale. Having excluded that site, I do not think it ever occurred to those who were responsible for the insertion in the Constitution of the 100 miles limit that a site should be chosen which would be practically inaccessible from Sydney. And the right honorable member for East Sydney, who was, a party to the agreement, has assured us that it was intended that the site should be somewhere near the 100-mile limit. I am quite sure that had the people of New South Wales ever dreamed that such a step as going to the extreme confines of the State was contemplated they would not have voted for the acceptance of the Commonwealth Constitution. Sir Edmund Barton took special pains to impress upon the people of Sydney that they would derive a substantial benefit from communication with the Federal Capital. He led them to believe that the trade from that Capital would go to Sydney. They were misled by these representations into voting for a proposal which under other circumstances they would not have supported.


Mr Webster - Who misled them ?


Mr JOHNSON - Sir Edmund Barton.


Mr Webster - I do not think so.


Mr JOHNSON - Undoubtedly he did. That fact is upon record. I certainly heard Sir Edmund Barton make a similar statement at a meeting which he addressed in Sydney. He assured his hearers that, although Sydney had been excluded for a variety of reasons, a site would be selected in a locality which would confer upon that city a substantial advantage in the way of trade. That advantage cannot be conferred by the selection of Dalgety. For all practical purposes the Seat of Government might just as well be at Timbuctoo. Dalgety appears less to conform to all those requirements which should be our first consideration than any other site save one that we have been asked to consider. In speaking upon this matter, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie cast some doubt upon the reliability of the printed copy of the memorandum to which the Premiers of the six States attached their signatures. He even went so far as to suggest that the copies which had been circulated in this Chamber, printed under authority of the New South Wales Government, contained substantial alterations from the original document. So far from that having been the case, I find upon comparing them that no alteration whatever has been made in their wording, and consequently his charge falls to the ground. The Minister of Home Affairs, in introducing this Bill, declared that the previous Premier of New South Wales had refused to take any part in the selection of the site, because he regarded that as a matter within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Parliament. Even admitting that that is so, it will be seen that Sir John See's remarks referred not to the acquisition of Federal territory, but to the selection of the site. I do not think that it has ever been contended that it is the province of New South Wales to determine the site. What I complain of is that the Government did not ask that State to grant us the necessary territory before this Parliament selected the site. I have always maintained that the proper method of procedure was first to negotiate with New South Wales for the grant or acquisition of territory, and then to choose the site. I would also point out that Sir John See did not speak with the authority. of Parliament upon this question. He did not consult the Legislature in any way. Subsequently the Government of which he was the head was defeated, and its successors have taken up a definite attitude upon this matter. The present Government of that State may be taken to more correctly represent the feeling of the people of New South Wales than did the See Government.


Mr Ronald - Was the question of the Federal Capital before the people at the last election ?


Mr JOHNSON - Only incidentally. The question of the Federal Capital certainly was mentioned.


Mr Ronald - It was never mentioned.


Mr JOHNSON - I beg the honorable member's pardon. Whilst it was not an issue of the election, there was some interest exhibited in it. There were very few candidates who entertained the slightest idea that the Seat of Government was to be located at such a remote distance from any centre of civilization as is Dalgety. I am absolutely certain that if an appeal were made to the people of New South Wales to-morrow they would unanimously decide against the selection of that particular locality.


Mr Ronald - The honorable member is indulging in pure political prophecy.


Mr JOHNSON - I have admitted that. That there is a considerable amount of feeling upon this question in New South Wades is evidenced by the action which the State Legislature took only a few days ago. It was a most unfortunate circumstance that, owing to some reasons with which we are not familiar, the closure had to be applied in order to force the resolution submitted byMr. Carruthers through the House. I particularly deplore the action of the New South Wales Parliament in that connexion, because just at that period there seemed to be a prospect of the Federal Parliament arriving at some satisfactory solution of the difficulty which had been created. I fear that the action of the Premier of that State, justified as I admit it was in the circumstances as he understood them, may prejudice the calm consideration of this matter, by reason of the irritation which it has engendered in some quarters. Some honorable members have gone so far as to say that they would have reversed their votes upon this question if it had not been for the language in which Mr. Carruthers, had indulged. Well, all I can say is that it savours of pettiness and childishness, and is not worthy of men dealing with large national questions. We ought always to consider, as far as we can, the feelings of the States in matters which peculiarly affect themselves. Of course, the selection of the Seat of Government is a question which is of interest to the whole Commonwealth, but it particularly affects New South Wales, because that State has to cede a portion of its territory to the Federation. The recognition of the right of New South Wales to have the Federal Capital within its borders really carried with it a recognition of the view that it was peculiarly interested in the question of its precise situation. Some of the representatives of New South' Wales therefore think that they are well within their rights in calling attention to the feeling that exists amongst a large section, if not the majority, of the people of New, South Wales.


Mr Wilks - The honorable member should not apologize; let him speak out strongly.


Mr JOHNSON - I certainly am not apologizing. I say that the people of New South Wales are well within their rights; that they feel very strongly in regard to this matter, and that we should pay some deference to the opinions of those who are most vitally affected by this question, since New South Wales will have to give up a large portion of its territory.


Mr Mahon - Every deference has been shown.


Mr JOHNSON - I beg to differ from the honorable member. That deference to which they are entitled has not been shown. Judging by the feeling which prevails throughout New South Wales, that is the view which the people themselves take of the action of. this Parliament. The Bill itself seems to recognise the right of New South Wales to be consulted in the matter of the territory.


Mr Wilks - The Bill requests what the Act demands.


Mr JOHNSON - That is the exact position. It is set forth that the Bill is for -

An Act to determine more definitely the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth in the neighbourhood of Dalgety, and the territory there within which it shall be, and to provide for the grant to, and acceptance by the Commonwealth of the territory. ...

The Bill deals throughout with the " granting" of this territory by New South Wales. Why could we not have asked for a grant of territory prior to our selection, of the site? Had we done so, we should have avoided the complications that have since arisen. We are now proposing to hark back to a position which should have been taken up at the first instance; but we are still on the wrong road. Clause 3 provides that -

The Minister is empowered to obtain, and the Governor-General is empowered to accept, on behalf of the Commonwealth for the purposes of the Seat of Government, a- grant by the State of New South Wales to the Commonwealth of the territory described in schedule A to this Act to the full extent to which the territory can be granted by the State within the meaning of section one hundred and twenty-five of the Con.stitution

Schedule A shows that this is a reference to the Dalgety site. In view of the decision of the Parliament of New South Wales not to grant that site, why are we tto.w considering a Bill requesting them to cede it to 'us? It seems to me that we are only making the position worse, instead of better, for ourselves. Both Houses of the State Parliament have decided against a grant of this territory. If this Bill be passed, and the people of New South Wales still refuse to grant this territory, another dead-lock will arise unless we are going to take some assertive action on behalf of the Commonwealth. Is that the intention ? That is a point upon which the House ought to be enlightened'. In the event of the Parliament adhering to its decision to establish the Capital at Dalgety, is this Government going to send an armed force into New South' Wales to take possession of the territory?


Mr Wilks - If they went there, they would never come back.


Mr JOHNSON - If the armed force went to Dalgety all that we should find of them would be their petrified bodies, and the incident "would be handed down to posterity as an example of the stupendous folly of this Parliament. It is to be regretted that negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the question - negotiations that might have been satisfactory to all parties - were broken off, and that we are now asked to consider a measure which may be taken by the Parliament and people of New South Wales as another attempt to flout their wishes. They would certainly be justified in taking that view, since they have definitely refused to grant' this territory to us'. To proceed with the consideration of a Bill to acquire that territory in spite of the objections of the people of New South Wales seems to be an act of intentional discourtesy to them. I can only hope that the word "' Dalgety " will be omitted from the Bill, and that a more suitable locality will be substituted - one which will be more in consonance with the spirit of the compact, and more agreeable to the desires of the people of New South Wales. When such a selection has been made, I trust that the Federal Parliament will be able to approach the people of New South Wales, through the State Legislature, in a more conciliatory spirit, so that some arrangement may be arrived at which will be mutually satisfactory. I earnestly hope that, whatever we do in the settlement of this question will be in the direction of promoting harmony and good feeling among the people of all the States.


Mr Ronald - What is the objection to Dalgety ?


Mr JOHNSON - I have already pointed out that it is a most inhospitable bract of country ; that it is practically treeless ; that the surveyors, in their early reports, pointed out that, not eve a along the banks of the rivers was there much sign of vegetation; that all hope of cultivating, parks or gardens there would have to be abandoned; and that, from these .points of view, a less suitable site could scarcely be selected. I have also alluded to its inaccessibility, and I would add to the objections that I have urged on that score, that those who favour its selection, because they believe it" will have access to Eden as a Federal port, disregard the great engineering difficulties in the way of constructing a railway between the two points. There is a sheer descent of several thousand feet, and it is only by a most circuitous route that Twofold Bay can be reached from Dalgety.


Mr Ronald - It is only 2,500 ft. above the level of the sea.


Mr JOHNSON - But there is a great difference between a gradual and a sheer descent of 2,500. If honorable members refer to the map attached to Mr. Scrivener's report they will see that the route which must be taken to the sea covers a distance of 125 miles. The construction of a railway along that route would, I am informed; at a low estimate, cost about £6,000 per mile.


Sir John Forrest - There would be no immediate occasion to construct the railway to which the honorable member refers. That would be a matter for the future.


Mr JOHNSON - In discussing the Seat of Government Bill, several honorable members laid great emphasis on the need of securing territory which would include Twofold Bay as a Federal port.


Mr Webster - Does the honorable member believe that New South Wales would grant Twofold Bay as a Federal port?


Mr JOHNSON - I do not think that it would, although, even if they did, it seems to me that it would be of little service to Dalgety. On only one . side of the harbor is there anything like safe anchorage for vessels of fairly large tonnage, and even that is unsuitable for vessels of great draught. It is almost an open roadstead. When there is an easterly or south-easterly swell running intoTwofold Bay, even vessels lying alongside the extreme end of the wharf which runs out from Eden on the protected side of the port roll to such an extent that many of their passengers often suffer from sea-sickness. The representatives of Western Australia, who urge that if Twofold Bay were a Federal port they would be able to travel by some of the fine inter-State steamers, and land almost directly at the door of the Capital, cannot know what sort of harbor exists there. If they did, they would dismiss such an idea from their minds. There is a limited area of harbor at Boyd Town, on the southern shore, which is sheltered from the south-easterly and southerly winds, but not from the north-easterly winds. ' On the other hand, the northern shore is more or less exposed to the full force of southeasterly gales blowing in from a stretch of ocean several thousands of miles in extent. To make the port a safe anchorage for vessels of fairly large tonnage, an immense breakwater would have to be run out from Boyd Point, and at the lowest estimate the cost of such a work would be £1,500,000. To those honorable members who think that the Federal Capital should have a port of its own, I would point out that JervisBay, which lies between Twofold Bay and Sydney, is a port much superior to Twofold Bay, while the country between it and the main line from Adelaide to Brisbane, passing through Melbourne and Sydney, contains several sites suitable for a Federal Capital. The geographical position of Sydney, however, is such that it must always be the great supplying and commercial centre of Australia. I hope that the Parliament will reconsider this matter, apart from all provincial considerations, and. in the interestsof Australia as a whole, and that honorable members will put aside their personal prejudices, and remember that their determination will affect future generations. I hope that the Postmaster-General, who appears to be so enamoured of the Dalgety site, will forget that he is representing a constituency containing a Federal site--


Mr Austin Chapman - Which is the honorable member's site?


Mr JOHNSON - I am not committed to any site, though I am prepared to say which, in my opinion, is the best of certain sites which may be mentioned. I should like a site to be chosen adjacent to the main trunk line of railway, and, for that reason, voted for Lyndhurst, which, although not on the main line, is close to a line which, had the Federal Capital been located there, would have become the main line, connecting the Capitals of the States. But in voting for Lyndhurst, although 1 indicated my preference for that site before the other sites then offered, I did not indicate my preference for it above any other possible site.


Mr Austin Chapman - Has the honorable member made up his mind as to which site he will vote for?


Mr JOHNSON - I cannot make up my mind until I know what sites are to be offered to us. The Postmaster-General, in supporting Dalgety, is not supporting the best site in his electorate, because there are others which, from every point of view, are superior to it. The only recommendation of Dalgety seems to be its abundant water supply.


Mr Austin Chapman - I understand that the country surrounding Lake George is to be tacked on to my electorate. Does thehonorable member favour the Lake George site before the Dalgety site?


Mr JOHNSON - Certainly.


Mr Austin Chapman - Does the honorable member think that it is as good as the Lyndhurst site?


Mr JOHNSON - I am not prepared to say in the absence of surveyors' reports. I hope that Parliament, in coming to its decision on this matter, will be actuated by a Federal spirit, and will disregard anything that has been said in the New South Wales Parliament which may have hurt their personal feelings. Negotiations for the settlement of 4he question were proceeding in quite a different way before the matter cropped up there, and had it not been for the action taken we might by this time have reached a friendly decision. I do not think that the Federal Parliament will suffer any loss of dignity if it gives way in such a manner as to soothe the irritation of the people of New South Wales.


Mr Austin Chapman - I thought that that State desired to have the matter settled.


Mr JOHNSON - I am sure that it does.


Mr Austin Chapman - Then let us settle it.


Mr JOHNSON - Tt must be settled in the right way. While I regret the interposition of the Premier of New South Wales at this juncture, I acknowledge that lie was within his rights in the action which tie took, and that New South Wales is justified in asserting its claim to be consulted in (his matter.


Mr Bamford - Would the honorable member be inclined to favorably consider the claims of Armidale?


Mr JOHNSON - I think it is too far from the southern States.







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