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Thursday, 8 November 1956

Mr J R FRASER . - I have heard with great satisfaction the announcement by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) of the Government's decision in this matter and I have heard with equal satisfaction the terms of the motion that he has put before the House. The establishment of a joint standing committee to oversee the development of Canberra is something for which I have pressed ever since I have been in this chamber. I commend both the Minister and the Government on this decision to establish that committee. It is true that motions have been on the notice-papers, both in another place and in this House, for the establishment of committees of either House, largely for the same purposes as are now to be covered by the standing committee proposed by the Minister. But those notices of motion are on the notice-papers of both Houses only, I feel, because members and senators interested in the proposals had somewhat despaired of securing the establishment of a standing committee of both Houses. So that, whereas in our notices of motion, we had sought the establishment of the lesser, the Minister and the Government, in their wisdom, are now about to establish the greater.

I believe that the. committee will be able to do- very worth-while work not only for this community of Canberra but also for the people of Australia, who have a responsibility for the maintenance of the national capital and who, increasingly, will look to this city as the centre of culture and development. The constitution of the committee - three Government senators, two Opposition senators, and two Government members and two Opposition members of the House of Representatives - retains in the hands of the Government, as does the provision that a Government senator shall be- the chairman, an essential measure of control. It is both necessary and practicable that a Government member should be chairman of such a committee, but I hope that in years to come one limitation may be removed and the committee will have power to elect either a Government member or senator as chairman.

If I understood the Minister correctly, the committee will have power to investigate and report upon only the matters referred to it by the Minister. That is a wise safeguard for the moment, because, in its absence, we could well lose sight of our objective in a maze of decisions, counter decisions and overruling decisions. However, in the future it may be found necessary to extend the powers of the committee to include the power to initiate investigation of matters which it believes should be investigated.

I think it is important to keep in mind that such a committee should not always be tied to -supervising the purely physical development of the capital. Great problems will arise - they are already showing themselves - and as the population increases to its ultimate figure of perhaps 120,000, they will become more and more acute. They will be found not only in the physical, but also in the legislative development of the city, as it affects the daily lives of the people. Tt may well become necessary to extend the function of the committee into the legislative field of inquiry.

I congratulate the Government and the Minister upon this proposal. The establishment of the committee will bring more closely to the notice of Parliament its responsibility for the development of the national capital. It has been truly said on more than one occasion that, in relation to the national capital, this Parliament, which must act for the whole of the Commonwealth, must also act as a State government and indeed as a municipal or shire council. It must govern in the three fields in which these separate forms of government normally prevail. The Government has another great responsibility also. It is the landlord of more than three-quarters of the population and the employer of more than 60 per cent. Therefore, the Commonwealth Parliament has a very great responsibility for, and a very close connexion with, the development of this city, and the standing committee will have a vital and important task to fulfil.

I am very pleased that the Government has taken this step, which will be hailed by the people of Canberra also. It will be necessary, I believe, for the Government to take a further step, and perhaps this step will be taken upon the advice of the new committee. I refer to the need to overhaul the machinery of planning and development and, possibly, to reconstitute the National Capital Planning and Development Committee.

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