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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr FAIRHALL (Paterson) (Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works) . - I do not want to take up the time of the committee for very long. 1 know that other honorable members want to deal with some of their pet subjects and I certainly would not deny them that pleasure. But one or two matters have been mentioned to which I think I should address a few remarks.

This afternoon, the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) mentioned certain matters as they appeared in the printed Estimates. Of course, the honorable gentleman does well to question those things that he does not understand. As the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) pointed out earlier, the Commonwealth Government stands in relation to affairs in the Australian Capital Territory as local government, State government and Commonwealth government combined. Therefore, certain of the headings to which the honorable member for Moore referred this afternoon are matters which, in the States, would be dealt with by a State government or by local government authorities. The honorable gentleman asked for information about an item which dealt with firewood. He is quite right in raising that matter, because the Estimates provide a sum of £1,000 for it. 1 am pleased to tell the honorable gentleman that it provides for the development in Canberra of a reserve of firewood for the Government's own use. It is wood which is cleared from areas that are now to go under forestry development, and which otherwise would have been burnt and destroyed. So that is a conservation activity of the Government.

The honorable member addressed some remarks to the matter of the Canberra swimming pool, and drew attention to the great cost of the pool. Certainly this kind of amenity is very expensive to-day, but in a country town it is very necessary. I draw attention to the fact that here we are developing a national capital which, to an increasing degree as time goes on, will become the symbol of this country's nationhood. That being so, we should not be cheese-paring. I know that the honorable member will reply that we have been cheese-paring in other things, and regretfully I am forced to admit that that is so. But this swimming pool has drawn national attention, not for the reasons mentioned by the honorable member for Moore, but because, as he will know, the design of that pool won for the architect the Sulman prize for architecture for this year, it is a pool which is playing a very important part in the development of this national capital's affairs.

Mr Leslie - Why not assist souse of the States to do the same thing?

Mr FAIRHALL - I will come to that in a moment. The pool was opened with the State swimming championships earlier this 5'ear. Next year I understand the national swimming championships will be held at the pool. I submit that it is a very good thing that here in the national capital these facilities should be provided for national games of this type. I am a little disappointed with the honorable gentleman, because he referred to the AuditorGeneral's report and drew from that two figures, one showing the cost of operation and the other showing the returns of the new Canberra swimming pool. Then he referred lo the figures included in the Estimates. From that he appeared to draw the inference that something was wrong with the maintenance vote on the Estimates for this coming year. The position is that the Auditor-General's figures referred to one swimming pool only, whereas the figures in the Estimates refer to the two swimming pools which are operating in Canberra, or will be operating very shortly. The fact is, of course, that the Olympic pool was opened on 26th January-

Mr Leslie - On 22nd December, according to the Auditor-General's report.

Mr FAIRHALL - I am speaking of Unofficial opening. As the figures show, very little business was done until that date. But the overall figures represent very largely the revenue for only the last couple of months of the swimming season. With a full season's operation, it may well be that the pool will show an enhanced surplus for the coming year. The honorable gentleman asks, "Why do we not do something about State pools? " My information is that one or two of the pools to which the honorable gentleman referred this afternoon, and in which he is interested, were started by the State government with funds which, of course, were allocated from federal sources, so here are instances where pools have been provided by his State government with funds from which the Commonwealth Government, in quite the same context, has provided the Canberra pool.

I want to pass now to one or two remarks made by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser), who has quite rightly directed attention to the fact that there are great shortcomings in this national capital which has been the responsibility of succeeding governments ever since the decision was taken to develop a garden capital city here in Canberra. As I have had occasion to point out in this chamber on previous occasions, it is one thing for a government to make a very good decision to establish a national capital, developed on a planned basis and providing a garden city atmosphere, but it is quite another thing for succeeding governments, in times of changing economic circumstances, to face up to the inevitable costs which are involved in implementing that decision. Inevitably, there have been these great shortcomings. It is quite true that we badly need an additional high-level bridge in Canberra, but I must assure the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory that he can cross the Commonwealth-avenue bridge with the highest degree of safety, and that that bridge has a very long life in front of it. As he knows, the Estimates which are being debated by the committee include provision for funds from which the final surveys, .drilling, foundational investigation, and so on, will be made for the new King'savenue bridge. I am hopeful that if the present economic circumstances continue we shall see in a very short time the beginning of construction of the new bridge. As I say, inherent in the development of this garden city, and for reasons to which the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has quite rightly directed attention, there are great calls for subsidies, for transport and so on, which the Government must face. In the matter of subsidies, it is a problem for the Commonwealth Government to hold an even balance between the entitlements of the citizens of the Australian Capital Territory and the Government's responsibility to the rest of the taxpayers of this country.

Mr Leslie - You are coming my way.

Mr FAIRHALL - I am prepared to go the honorable member's way when he puts up a good argument. 1 want to deal particularly with the bus fares payable by children in Canberra. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory points out that we propose, and I have agreed, that the bus fares of children going to and from schools should be increased from Id. to 3d. lt is quite true that 3d. to-day is equivalent, economically, to Id. at the time when those bus services were begun. It is not of much use for the honorable gentleman to suggest that child endowment has not been raised to take care of that sort of variation in values, because in the days when the Id. bus fare in Canberra was struck, there was not any child endowment at all, so to that extent parents have gained through child endowment. I rather wish that the honorable gentleman, when he said that we should look at the great increase from Id. to 3d., had taken the argument a stage further and referred to the total amounts involved in this sort of operation. In 1954-55, the total fares recovered on children's buses were, in round figures, £4,500 in return for an expenditure of £48,000. In 1955-56, the fares were £4,700 and the expenditure was £48,500. It is estimated that in normal circumstances we would have recovered £5,230 from children's bus fares in the current year, as against an estimated expenditure of £52,000. We are therefore proposing to increase the return from about £5,000 to about £15,000, and so there will be a gain to that extent, but nothing alters the fact that we are already heavily subsidizing these bus services, as shown by the figures which I have submitted to the committee. The honorable gentleman points to the Commonwealth's responsibility to subsidize fares. This subsidy is at the expense of the taxpayers of Australia, and I do not think that anybody can rightfully claim that we have not stood up to our responsibility to subsidize, on a perfectly fair and equitable basis, the transport of children to Canberra schools.

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