Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Monday, 18 December 1905

Mr REID - There is nothing remarkable about that. There were three different sites. I preferred one which I could not get. I disliked No. 3 because I thought it utterly bad, and I supported No. 2 site, which was not so bad. I now believe that I can get my original selection, and when I elect to take it, I am called a political contortionist. That is a matter of common sense that cannot be appreciated by some members of the Labour Party. I am shifting from Dalgety because I think I can get something better. If, however, I find that I cannot do that, I shall stick to

Dalgety. If we were to pass this Bill tomorrow, we should not move one inch further. I think that is one of the strongest reasons for waiting until we get something in a Bill that will enable us to make a forward step.

Mr Deakin - There is nothing to prevent the right honorable gentleman from altering the Bill so as to accomplish that.

Mr REID - That is a novel idea. Here we have a Government, including a number of able men, who have only a little Bill to draft, and yet they ask a stranger like myself, who comes here once in three months, to put it in shape for them. I shall undertake that work when it becomes part of my duty.

Mr Groom - Perhaps the right honorable' gentleman would make a suggestion by way of criticism.

Mr REID - I do not expect to enlighten the Minister. The Prime Minister made a most unhappy interjection when he practically threw upon me the necessity of knocking the Bill into shape. There is one important announcement in the measure which I had overlooked. The first clause reads -

This Act may be cited as the Seat of Government Act 1905.

What was the title of the other Act that fixed Dalgety as the Capital Site? I think it was something like that. In what way does this Bill advance one pace the matter of fixing the Capital Site? We have passed an. Act declaring that the Capital of the Commonwealth shall be at Dalgety. Consequently that is already law. Clause 2 of the Bill states -

The territory described in schedule A to this Act ... is hereby determined to be the territory in which the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be.

As I have said, that declaration is flatly against the Constitution. The Capital Site cannot be selected in any territory which has not been granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth. The next clause, instead of providing that steps shall be taken to acquire the territory - because there are alternative words in the Constitution which point to the process of acquiring territory if a grant is not made - empowers the Minister to accept a grant by the State of New South Wales of the territory described in Schedule A - to the full extent to which the territory can be granted by the State within the meaning of section 125 of the Constitution.

No doubt that expression, although rather clumsy, means that the Parliament of New South Wales is asked to grant 900 square miles, so far as Crown lands exist within the territory.

Mr Watson - But would not the grant imply that they would give up their sovereign State rights,, even in connexion with private land? Would not a grant of territory mean more than giving up the feesimple of the land?

Mr Isaacs - Hear, hear.

Mr REID - Yes; but if that were meant the expression "can be granted" would not be used. In a territorial sense, every inch of the land, whether owned privately or otherwise, could be granted. That is to say, the relation of the State towards it could be transferred to the Commonwealth. My point, however, is that, instead of doing anything, this clause is supremely ridiculous, in that it empowers a Minister to apply to Mr. Carruthers, the Premier of New South Wales, for this 900 square miles. In view of the attitude of the Government of New South Wales, that is silly in the extreme. If this were a conciliatory move, there might be something in it, whether it was sensible or not. It is declared, however, that the Seat of Government shall be at Dalgety, and1 there is no move in the direction of conciliation. Then clause 3 empowers the Minister not to acquire the territory, but to present his compliments to the Premier of New South Wales., and ask him to grant it. That is ridiculous, because that has been done already.

Mr Webster - Does the right honorable gentleman want us to present a revolver at the head of New South Wales ?

Mr REID - No; but when we passed an Act determining that Dalgety should be the site of the Federal Capital, the very step here provided for was taken. The Government, as was their duty, immediately sent to the New South Wales Premier a copy of the Act containing the determination of the Federal Parliament, and asked him to take the steps necessary to carry out their choice. This Bill is simply repeating, as a dismal farce; that which was already provided for by this Parliament months and months ago. The Minister is empowered to obtain, and the GovernorGeneral is empowered to accept, a grant by the State of New South Wales of the territory described in Schedule A to the Act. The expression " grant " implies the giving of something. It does not imply the forcible taking of anything. It suggests ah approach to the Premier of New South Wales for a grant, but action has been taken already in that direction. The moment this Parliament chose Dalgety, we asked the New South Wales Government to take the steps that were necessary to give effect to the Seat of Government Act. Now we are going to solemnly pass a measure empowering the Minister to ask the Premier of New South Wales to grant us something that he has already declared he will not grant. This is surely a wondrous Bill, and this House will fairly crown its recent labours if it passes it. Now clause 3 provides that -

From the day when the grant and acceptance take effect -

Everything hangs on that. The Minister is to repeat that letter that we sent to New South Wales a year ago. He is to say : " I am empowered to obtain from you, Mr. Carruthers, a grant of the Dalgety site." A letter' would1 have answered the same purpose. The clause goes on - all estates and interests held by any person from the State of New South Wales within the territory so granted and accepted shall continue to be held from the Commonwealth on the same terms and conditions as they are on that day held from the State.

No doubt the term " grant " is used in the sense of territorial grant, without reference to the tenure of the land. It all comes back to this : That the Premier of New South Wales can only be asked to grant the territory. A request is to be made, and1 we are solemnly passing an Act of Parliament embodying a request that was conveyed by correspondence months ago If this Bill provided that if the Parliament of New South Wales would1 not grant us the territory which we ask, such and such a thing should happen, it might effect some good. But what is to happen, in the contingency which I have suggested ? The entire Bill is conditioned upon the grant being made by New South Wales. That grant must take place before the Bill can achieve anything. What is to happen subsequently? The State laws are to continue in operation " until Parliament otherwise provides." Provision is also made for the territory having access from the sea. The whole Bill hangs upon its first portion - upon the Government of New South Wales doing a thing which thev have absolutely said they will not do, namely, facilitate our acquisition of the Dalgety site. They have made their position perfectly clear, and it does not seem to me that in this Bill we are taking up either a diplomatic or a strong position. There are two things which might be done - one is to take up a strong position, and assert whatever rights we may have in the matter ; and the other is to adopt a conciliatory attitude, and endeavour to arrive at an amicable arrangement in that way. This Bill does neither. It asserts that the Seat of Government shall be at Dalgety. That is not conciliation. Then it says, in effect, " Will you kindly grant us this particular site, embracing an . area of 900 square miles?" The measure will raise another inflammable subject in New South Wales. The Bill not only asks that State to grant us a territory at Dalgety, but it actually says., " There is the territory that we want ; there are its boundaries ; we have mapped out 900 square miles, and there is a legal description- of it, similar to that which usually appears at the end of a conveyance. All that you have to do is to give us that site."

Mr Maloney - That would settle the whole difficulty.

Mr REID - Of course it would. If we fixed the area at 100,000 square miles, and New South Wales granted us that area, it would settle the difficulty. But what would Victoria say if a big slice of territory were cut out of it?

Mr King O'malley - Give her a show.

Mr REID - It seems to me that if o±er people dealt with our little terraces', as we propose to deal with land that does not belong to us, hard names would be used.

Mr Webster - In New South Wales, the Government have been dividing up the land for years amongst boodlers.

Mr. -REID. - Is that any reason why another boddler should come along and claim 900 square miles of her territory? The fact is that the party to which the honorable member belongs wishes to obtain a large slice of New South Wales territory in order that it may indulge in a socialistic experiment. New South Wales is not prepared to give land for that purpose.

Mr King O'malley - But the land would remain there.

Mr REID - Of course it would. If somebody were to put his hand into the honorable member's pocket, the money: would still remain in the country. But other people naturally expect us to keep our hands out of their pockets. This Bill is, a perfectly idle and childish one. If it were something better than that, this is not the time of the session to do it justice. There are too many members absent. It is useless to talk about our powers having been exercised, because we do not know what modifications may arise-

Mr Webster - We waited until the honorable member returned to the House before dealing with the question.

Mr REID - The honorable member will not be able to do that much longer. That is one consolation. He has another year of parliamentary life before him, and that is all.

Mr Webster - The right honorable member must not indulge in threats.

Mr REID - No; I believe in a fair fight.

Mr Webster - The right honorable member himself should contest my electorate.

Mr REID - I never take on a boy's job, when I can get a boy to do it for me. When the time to which I refer arrives, I shall be too busy in other directions. It seems to me idle to expect that we can settle this matter in a satisfactory way at the present late period of the session, and, so far as I am personally concerned, I am strongly in favour of its consideration being deferred. Although I am a representative of New South Wales, and may seem to be taking a course which is contrary to the wishes of her people, I am prepared to accept the responsibility for my action, feeling that results, will justify the adoption of the course that I suggest.

Suggest corrections