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Wednesday, 24 May 1939

Mr HARRISON - No. Among the tenders were those of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited and John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited. For a building faced with granite and terra cotta, their tenders were £410,776 and £411,521 respectively. Each of them submitted an alternative tender for a building faced with standstone. In this case the position was reversed, the price quoted by John Grant andSons Proprietary Limited being the lower, namely, £409,325, and that of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, £409,436. Then follow some details which have no bearing on the question before the House.

I desire, however, to direct attention to the following paragraph: -

The material for . the face of the building has been carefully considered by the Chief Architect of this department, and his opinion, with which I concur, is that the best result will be achieved by adopting the first proposal given above, namely, lower floors in granite, and upper floors in terra cotta. The design, being of a simple nature, would allow for the grading of the terra cotta from the red granite below to say, a cream at the top.

Although the existing building is in stone, there is no possibility of duplicating it in any way, and there seems, therefore, no special reason why with the new design construction in stone need be perpetuated.

It is recommended that the lowest tender, that of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, £410,776, for the building with a granite and terra cotta face, be accepted. [Leave to continue given.]

On the 20th March, 1939, the PostmasterGeneral's Department received from the Department of the Interior a letter containing the recommendation of its chief officer, that the finish should be in terra cotta, and that the tender of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited should be accepted.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Who signed that letter?

Mr HARRISON - I have with me only extracts from the letters, and, as there is no signature, I cannot say definitely who signed it, but I think it was either the Minister or the DirectorGeneral of Works. That letter disregarded the recommendation of the departmental officers. Surely their recommendation should bear weight! When all is said and done they are the experts and the Minister is only a layman. I remind the House that in this instance the Postmaster-General's Department is acting as.client of the Department of Works. I received that letter as PostmasterGeneral following a change of government. I wrote to Senator Foll, the new Minister for the Interior, as follows: -

May I refer you to the letter of the 18th April, written to my predecessor by Mr. Thorby. This proposal comes as a surprise to the department-

In view of the statement of the honorable member for Calare, I ask honorable members to note that fact. The DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs says that he was not consulted in any way by my predecessor as to the treatment of the. building that he had to administer.

Mr Beasley - I support that procedure.

Mr HARRISON - The letter continues - . which had concluded that the recommendation of the Director-General of your department and the Chief Architect to use a terra cotta facing would be adopted.

This department has given a good deal of consideration to the material to be used, and is in full accord with the views expressed by your Director-General in his memorandum of the 20th March, 1939, a copy of which- is attached.

There is so little difference in the cost of terra cotta as against sandstone as to make this aspect of the question unimportant; but, from the point of view of appearance and subsequent upkeep, there seems no doubt whatever that terra cotta is preferable. Many large and important buildings erected in Sydney and Melbourne during the last few years have received this terra cotta treatment, and it would certainly appear to be more in conformity with modern practice to adopt that material on the new Sydney building. Sandstone dirties and deteriorates from exposure to the weather to a somewhat serious extent, giving rise to heavy costs if the building is to be maintained in a .presentable state. On the other hand, terra cotta is not likely to show any appreciable deterioration from such causes, and when it does accumulate grime and dirt, it can be restored almost to its original condition at very small cost.

To that letter I received a reply in which the Minister supported the previous contention of the department that sandstone should be used. I then wrote another letter, in which I expressed surprise at the contents of the letter of the 2nd of May. My letter was as follows: -

I am sorry I find myself in disagreement with 'you on this matter; but, in common with your own expert officers, including the architect responsible for the design, I hold the view quite strongly that .this new building of modern type would lend itself particularly well to the treatment contemplated by your architect when the main design was conceived. The street is itself comparatively narrow and, both from the aesthetic and utilitarian standpoints, there seems little doubt that the treatment of the extensive facade of the new post office with a vitrified material will have distinct advantages over the more sombre characteristics of a stone facing. I regard the night reflection from the building in terra cotta material as a great asset in such circumstances and I am satisfied that not only will the face of the building be less inclined to accumulate dirt than would a stone frontage, but when the occasion arises it will be much less costly to restore it to its original state than would be the process of attempting to clean stone-work when it became dirty and blackened. There are several instances, including the existing Sydney General Post Office, where pressure has been brought upon the department to clean the external stone-work of its building, and where it has been found imperative to do this work the cost has been unusually high. On the score of the initial cost there is practically nothing to choose between one type of facing and another of the two kinds under consideration. In the circumstances, may I ask you to be good enough to arrange that when the contract is being placed it will include the stipulation that terra cotta is to be used for the facing.

We acted within our rights and demanded that certain action should be taken. The advice received was that he had consulted officers of his department who again had supported him in recommending that terra cotta shouldbe used. The three points taken by the Postmaster-General's Department were, first, that terra cotta was desired by the Postmaster-General's Department; secondly, that terra cotta would ultimately prove cheaper. The departmental officers had advised us that some new form of treatment had been evolved that would render the useof architectural terra cotta cheaper.

Mr Archie Cameron Mr. Archie Cameron interjecting,

Mr HARRISON - The Minister for the Interior has assured me that any saving in this connexion will go to the 'benefit of the department concerned and I have discussed the matter with the DirectorGeneral of Works, who has also assured me that the department will receive the benefit of any cheapening of maintenance costs. The third point is that the departmental officers - all those experts who have considered this matter - have recommended to the Minister that terra cotta should be used. The Postmaster-General's Department itself has asked that the building shall be faced with terra cotta. It has said that it is a cheaper material, likely to give a greater lasting benefit, that maintenance costs will be lower, and that it will give a greater reflection of light. It has also stated that the first recommendation made by the department that the lowest tender for terra cotta should be accepted was the right recommendation, and was in conformity with all the necessary requirements in a 'building of that nature where cheapness in construction and low maintenance costs are essential. I believe that the PostmasterGeneral's Department is completely satisfied that the Department of the Interior has not handled the matter in a suspicious manner, and that the former department supports the attitude adopted by the new Minister.

Mr Thorby - Does the PostmasterGeneral suggest that terra cotta is the principal item involved?

Mr HARRISON - I am not suggesting that. I have not had an opportunity to study the position closely, but I feel sure that honorable members will accept the statement of the Director-General of Works that the Postmaster-General's Department will derive benefit. He would not make a recommendation unless he were satisfied.

Mr Thorby - But he concurred in my decision.

Mr HARRISON - I have read the statement by the Director-General of Works, who has concurred in the decision of the Chief Architect, who recommended that the facings of the building should he of terra cotta.

Mr Beasley - The Postmaster-General becomes further involved as he proceeds.

Mr HARRISON - There is nothing involved in the matter.

Mr.FORDE (Capricornia) [3.44].- We have listened with intense interest to the admirable and convincing case put forward by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby). We have also followed closely the explanations givenby two Ministers, and I believe I am voicing the opinion of honorable members generally when I say that they are not satisfied with the explanations that have been given.

Mr Beasley - We are not.

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