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Tuesday, 19 December 1905

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) - At this late hour of the session it is not my intention to. refer to the respective merits of the different sites. It appears to me that the time for such references has long since passed. I remind honorable members that we have already had full reports as to the merits of the sites submitted to us by two Royal Commissions - one of which was appointed by the Government of New South Wales and the other by the Commonwealth Government. We have also 'had the views of experts in regard to all the essentials of a Federal Capital, and in addition, honorable members of both Houses of the Legislature have made various pilgrimages to the different sites. Having obtained all the information that we could collect upon the subject, we dealt exhaustively with the -whole matter. During the first session of the first Parliament the two Houses failed to _ agree upon the question, and consequently it had to be revived in the following session. Upon that occasion both the Senate and this House, by absolute majorities, decided in favour of Dalgety, and it appears to me that unless it can be' shown that in so doing we committed a grave error of judgment, we should regard the matter of the selection as having, been finally settled. Personally, I am not aware of any fresh information which would justify us in reversing the decision at which we previously arrived. It is true that the Premier of New South Wales, in the exercise of his undoubted right, and I presume of what he deemed to be his duty, 'has administered a very smart "scolding" - I cannot apply to it any more dignified term - to the Parliament of the Commonwealth. Why? Simply because we have selected a site for the Seat of Government which 'was offered to us by his predecessor in office. It is no reply to my argument to say that the Ministry which made that offer are not now in office. I do not think that anybody will seriously contend that the present Government will always be in office. The actions of any Government should be reasonably binding upon their successors. If in the absence of any better reason than the objections of the Premier df New South Wales we reverse our former decision in regard to this matter, it appears to me that we shall afford the best possible justification for the Castigation that has been administered to us, and that our action will be regarded as an open confession that we are not fit to be intrusted with the important issues committed to our care. So far as 1 can judge, the only matter which it is sought to emphasize upon the present occasion has reference to what is alleged to have been a bond entered into by the Premiers of the various States at the gathering at which it was decided that the seat of Government should be in New South Wales. If the signatories to that bond had attached any special importance to it, it is a remarkable thing that they have never referred to it when speaking upon the subject in this House.

Mr Wilks - I cannot understand it.

Mr McLEAN - I am speaking of the Premiers who were responsible for the insertion in the Constitution of the 100-miles limit. We are now told that there was a bond within a bond. Assuming that the matter is worthy of serious consideration on our part, I would point out that the resolution does not define what is meant by a " reasonable distance " of Sydney. Honorable members must recollect that when we speak of a " reasonable distance " the term is used in a relative sense.

Mr Johnson - Does not the 100-mile limit qualify that view of the matter?

Mr McLEAN - It merely indicates that the Seat of Government must not be too near the capital of any State. The Constitution itself describes accurately the area within which we are free to select a site. What is that area ? It consists of the whole of New South Wales outside of the 100miles limit. If the Premiers had seriously intended that! that resolution should further circumscribe the area within which we were free to select a Federal Capital, would not the Premiers have embodied that fact in the Constitution? Is it to be seriously contended that there was an implied compact amongst the Premiers which further restricted the area prescribed by the Constitution, within which we are at liberty to make our selection ? Does any one argue that it would have been a proper thing to withhold that information from the people of the Commonwealth1 when they were asked to accept the Constitution ? If when a Constitution had been placed before them, stating in clear language the area within which we were free to select a site, there had been a secret understanding that that area was to be materially reduced, I consider that it would have been little less than a fraud upon them. I cannot believe that any of the Premiers responsible for the insertion of the 100-miles limit in the Constitution would be capable of misleading the people in that way. If there had been any understanding amongst them that the area available for the selection of the Seat of Government should be less than that prescribed by the Constitution, what' would have been easier than for them to specify in that document, say, that our choice should be limited to an area not less than 100 miles from Sydney, and not more than 200 miles? Under the circumstances, I attach no importance whatever to the resolution which has been referred to. I think it was adopted in its broader sense, to show that" the Capital, being within New South Wale's territory, would be within "a reasonable distance of Sydney. Another argument urged during this discussion is that the Federal Capital should be so located that the whole of its trade would necessarily pass through Sydney. To my mind, that is a most extraordinary contention. In order to realize its full effect, I would ask honorable members to bear in mind the sacrifices imposed upon the other States by the Constitution. We all know perfectly well that the establishment of a Federal Capital, which includes making provision for a proper water supply, for the construction of railways, and for other requisites, will involve an expenditure Of several million pounds.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - -If it were established on some sites it would.

Mr McLEAN - Any site that we may select will within a very few years involve us in an expenditure of several millions sterling. In addition to that, we all know that great inconvenience and disability will result from establishing the Seat of Government in a bush capital. Every official connected with1 the Commonwealth, who will be compelled to reside there, must reconcile himself to living in a remote locality, with all its attendant disadvantages. Why are we asked to submit to all these sacrifices? The one and only reason is a desire to prevent any of the existing States capitals securing a monopoly of the benefits accruing from ,the establishment of the Federal city.

Mr Johnson - Then Sir Edmund Barton had no right to mislead the people of New South Wales.

Mr McLEAN - I am not responsible for his statements.

Mr Chanter - He never misled the people.

Mr McLEAN - I think I know sufficient of Sir Edmund Barton to satisfy me that he would not wilfully make a misleading statement. I am endeavouring to deal with this matter from a commonsense stand-point. To contend that the Federal Capital should be so situate that the whole of its trade and all the material advantages accruing from it must necessarily pass through one city is to urge that we should make it impossible to attain that for which we are to spend millions of pounds, and to submit to immense disabilities and inconvenience. ' We are to give to one city all the advantages flowing from the establishment of the Capital, so that it will be in the same position as it would be if the Capital were established there. Had we been asked tq arrange for an amendment of the Constitution, which would make it possible to establish the Capital in Sydney, there would be some reason in such a proposal ; but to ask us to give up to Sydney all the advantages accruing from the Federal Capital., and at the same time to submit to the inconvenience and heavy expenditure involved in the establishment of a bush Capital, ostensibly for the express purpose of insuring that no city shall enjoy a monopoly of the advantages of that Capital is to ask us to do something that would be unworthy of this Parliament.

Mr Wilks - But New South Wales will find one- third of the cost of establishing the Capital !

Mr McLEAN - That is not the point at issue.

Mr Wilks - But the honorable member will not mention that fact.

Mr McLEAN - The Commonwealth will find the money, and New South Waleswill have to bear her proportion of the cost.

Mr Wilks - Which will be one-third of the total.

Mr McLEAN - New South Wales is to pay one-Third of the cost, and she asks for all the advantages.

Mr Wilks - That was the agreement.'

Mr McLEAN - I should be prepared' in matters of detail to make any reasonable concession to the wishes of the people of New South Wales. For instance, I was one of those who believed strongly, and still believe, that the Federal area should be a very considerable one. I strongly supported theproposal that the territory should comprise 900 square miles; but, since that is a matter in respect of which it may be reasonably conceded that New South Wales has a special interest, I should be quite willing to make a fair arrangement with her. The site of the Capital itself should be determined in the interests, not of one State, but of the whole of the people of the Commonwealth. It appears to me that if, in deference to a demand from any one State, we abandoned the interests of the whole of the people, we certainly should not prove worthy representatives of those who have sent us here; and, as I hold these views very strongly, it is my intention to support the Bill as introduced by the Government.

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