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Tuesday, 19 December 1905

Mr WILKS (Dalley) - The PostmasterGeneral is the representative of the district in which the Seat of Government has been selected, and, from the temperate language which he has, employed, and from his weak defence of that site, I gather that there is not very much to be urged in its, favour. In respect of the action of the Premier of New South Wales, I must say that upon this question he has most accurately gauged the anger of the people of that State. It was only the other day that any honorable member who dared to open his mouth in regard to the Capital Site was openly sneered at, not only by the representatives of Victoria, but by the leader of the Labour Party. As one of the representatives of New South Wales, I wish to recognise the constitutional compact made with that State. The irritation which has been engendered by the delay which has occurred in the settlement of this question is well warranted. For the benefit of honorable members who express astonishment at the statement made by Mr. Carruthers, I quote the following extract from the Age newspaper of 8th October, 1903: -

It is very well that the public can look on and thoroughly understand the squalid meaning of this nefarious game as it is being played by the New South Wales members. The public interests are as nothing. The finances of the Federal States are a bagatelle. Queensland is told that its Federal revenue of next year will be ^100,000 short of this year's return, Victoria's share will show a similar falling off, and. Tasmania and South Australia are in a like proportionate plight. In all the States every £1,000 of revenue is of particular value ; and yet at the instance of one miserably jealous and greedy State, intent on feeding its vanity at the expense of all others, this project of launching the Federation into millions of useless outlay is persisted in. If anything could add to the disgust which an average patriot must feel at this senseless and sordid rush into an immature choice of a national capital, it is the spirit of levity which Mr. Reid and Sir William McMillan brought tothe question of procedure yesterday.

Honorable members will note the use of the term "miserably jealous and greedy State." Upon this question I do not think that the Age represents the opinion of the people of Victoria. I believe that they are just as anxious to see effect given to the compact with New South Wales as are the electors of that State themselves. No honorable member who knows anything of the situation will deny that the people of New South Wales are irritated by the delay in the settlement of this question. It may be said that I am dealing with this matter from the point of view of a provincialist. I have heard of many " bleeding " patriots, and have seen many budding statesmen in this House, and I shall not mind being described as a parochialist because I stand up for the interests of New South Wales. It is a remarkable fact that most honorable members are prepared to deal with every question from the standpoint of statesmen, as long as it does not affect their own electorate. When Queens-;

Hand demands the sugar bounty, when Western Australia requires its Transcontinental Railway, when Victoria seeks increased protection, those who bring these matters before the House claim that they are playing the part of patriots, but when the representatives of New South Wales demand that the agreement which was made prior to Federation shall be observed, they are denounced as provincialists. It is just as well that' I should say the worst that can be said about myself. If because of the attitude I take up on this question I am to be regarded as a member of the " Cabbagetree mob," let it be so. If, on the other hand, it be said that I belong to " the Geebung push," let it be so. Some of our so-called comic journals would so describe those who fight for the settlement of this question ; but I am not afraid of such opprobrious terms being applied to me. I am fighting for my native State. It is admitted that the Conference of Premiers agreed that the Capital should be within a reasonable distance of Sydney, and I would remind the House that the parties to that agreement are rapidly passing out of the public life of this countrv. To-day we have with us but three of them - the Treasurer, the right honorable member for Balaclava, and the leader of the Opposition. Two other parties to that agreement have passed away from this mundane sphere, whilst the right honorable member for Adelaide, the remaining party to it. is unable just now to take an active part in politics. Two out of the three who are in the House to-day agree that the arrangement arrived at was that the Capital should be within a reasonable distance of Sydney.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Who said that?

Mr WILKS - The Treasurer and the leader of the Opposition have said so.

Mr.Deakin. - No; the Treasurer was contradicting another statement.

Mr WILKS - He acquiesced in the statement made by the leader of the Opposition that that was the agreement.

Mr Deakin - No; he was contradicting a statement to which the leader of the Opposition was referring.

Mr WILKS - He agreed that the words " a reasonable distance from Sydney " bore the interpretation that might ordinarily be attached to them and I am told that the right honorable member for Balaclava takes the same view. Everv day we are drifting farther from a proper comprehension of this agreement, and unless this question be speedily settled we shall have new politicians stepping into the arena, and saying that they are not responsible for an agreement made by others. This Bill simply proposes that the Commonwealth shall ask for that which the original Act demands. In the Seat of Government Act we have a clear demand for a certain site and certain territory, but in this Bill we simply propose to ask the Parliament of New South Wales to grant the site and territory. This is the result of the action taken by the New South Wales Legislature, and I think it is an admission that' the people of that State are entitled to be consulted. The honorable member for Gippsland has a strange conception of what is the meaning of the words "a reasonable distance." Apparently he would say that' a site on the Murray was within a reasonable distance of Sydney. The views of some honorable members appear to be determined by those of the Age. The idea of the editor of that journal is that his front window should overlook the Capital ; he seems to think that he must take care that it is close to the editorial window lest it might suddenly pass away. When the proposal that Tooma should be selected was under consideration, the Attorney-General moved an amendment extending the area down to the Murray. That was another source of irritation. My reading of the feeling of the people of that State may be bluntly stated. Others might be disposed to use more diplomatic language, but I say, plainly that the view of the people of that State is such that if an agitation for secession were properly conducted by public men, 2 20, 000 out of300,000 votes would be cast in its favour.

Mr Watkins - Why refer to it?

Mr WILKS - I wish to justify the attitude taken up by the Parliament of New South Wales in requesting this Legislature to establish the Capital on a site that will be in strict accordance with the spirit of the Constitution. Hitherto when we have demanded that that course should be adopted, we have been like " children crying in the night," and, in some cases, we have been subjected to the sneers of certain representatives of New South Wales, who, to-day, are ready to assist us.

Mr Watkins - The honorable member himself did not know until a day or two ago what was in the agreement arrived at by the Premiers.

Mr WILKS - That is immaterial. The honorable member for Newcastle is going to take up a different attitude, now that he has ascertained the terms of the agreement arrived at by the. Conference of Premiers.

Mr Watkins - The honorable member does not know what I shall do.

Mr WILKS - It has been pointed out time after time that in the opinion of New South Wales, the Capital should be established as close as possible to the 100-mile limit, and, indeed, I have always said that, provided that a suitable site could be secured, it should be against the 100-mile peg. In view of the speech made by the Attorney-General, can we be surprised' that Mr. Carruthers should point out to the people of New South Wales that an eni deavour is being made by means of legal quibbles to depart from the true intention of the Constitution? The honorable mem.ber for Gippsland would have us believe that the Commonwealth is going to spend millions of pounds on the Capital, and hand it over as a gift to New South Wales. Th4 point is that New South Wales must find one-third of the total cost of establishing the Capital, and must also make a free grant- of the territory. And vet it is suggested that it is to be a charitable dole tei that State ; that the Capital is to be giver to her. just as a co:n might be given to s pauper. We ask not for charity, but foi the observance of the compact. I should rot be so foolish as to advocate that New South Wales cannot .progress without the Capital. She will not depend upon it for her existence, but she certainly considers that her rights should be observed. When we find Victoria keen in regard to the preservation of her industries, when we find Queensland anxious for the sugar bounty, and Western Australia demanding a special Tariff and the Transcontinental Railway, can we blame New South Wales for standing out for the earl v establishment of the Capital ? Had the representatives of New South Wales combined in the first place, and made a selection, I am sure that this question would have been settled long ago. But the Minister of Trade and Customs naturally fought for the site in his own electorate, whilst the Postmaster- General did the same. I am not wedded to am site, but I am determined that a selection shall be made which will conform ns nearly as possible with the intention of the Constitution. The establishment of the Capital at Dalgety certainly would not do so. I do not intend to play the role of apologist for Mr. Carruthers; he can take care of himself. If he chooses to take advantage of the temper of the people of New South Wales, he may do so ; but it is not my duty to ;say whether or not his action in this regard has been actuated by a desire to advance the interests of his own Ministry. Whatever his reason may have been, his action has undoubtedly led the House "to realize the true position. Had the leader of the Labour Party, two years ago, taken up the position that he has assumed to-day, the matter would have been settled.

Mr King O'Malley - Mr. Carruthers had nothing 'to do with the attitude that he has now taken up.

Mr WILKS - I do not say that he has.

Mr King O'Malley - As a matter of fact, Mr. Carruthers tried to induce the Labour Party to assist him.

Mr WILKS - So I have been told. I do not wish to speak disparagingly of the site of which the Postmaster-General approves, but it is within my own knowledge that many honorable members who voted for that site in dealing with this Bill, would have reversed their decision., but for the fact that they feel that if they did so, it would be said that they were marching to the music of Carruthers. That is a blunt way of putting the position, but it is, nevertheless a true statement of the facts. I would put it to honorable members, that if Mr. Carruthers was right, they should support his views, regardless of what the people may say, and that, on the other hand, if they think the position he takes up is wrong, they should oppose it. I believe that Mr. Carruthers is an adept at feeling the pulse of the public opinion of New South Wales. Many of the politicians and newspapers of Victoria assert that there is nothing in this outcry from New South' Wales. I have pleasure in extending to those who make that statement a cordial invitation to visit the mother State and to settle the question for themselves. I appeal for the settlement of this question according to the intention of the Constitution, in the interests of Australia. New South Wales has made great sacrifices for Federation. For one thing, she has surrendered her fiscal policy, and Victoria has gained free access to her markets for all time. Dalgety is not within a reasonable distance of Sydney, and does not satisfy the people of the State. I am glad that the leader of the

Labour Party has come to see the importance of this, matter, and that the Minister of Trade and Customs is no longer wedded to a site in his electorate, but is ready to admit that the representatives of the State must stand together as one man. When I said the other day that, if there were not an amicable settlement of the question. New South Wales would call upon its delegation to withdraw from this Parliament, I said what I believe to be true. If the Capital Site is not speedily chosen, or if the Capital is located in some outlying portion of the State, there will be a serious movement for secession there, and, if led by a popular man, the number of votes cast for it will astound Australia.

Mr Watkins - That is not my opinion.

Mr WILKS - We have heard a great deal about the miserable greed, jealousy, and rapacity of New South Wales, and those who have used those phrases in regard to the State grumble because we are apt to speak hotly on this subject. I regret that my vocabulary does not enable me to find still more bitter terms.

Debate (on motion by Sir William Lyne) adjourned.

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