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Wednesday, 11 November 1959

Mr DAVIDSON (Dawson) (PostmasterGeneral) (12:10 PM) - Mr. Speaker-

Mr Curtin - What will the Minister have to say about this?

Mr DAVIDSON - The honorable member will hear me say it for ten minutes. The matter referred to by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) has been under consideration for a number of years. At no time during those years has there been any acceptance by the Commonwealth of the responsibility which the honorable member for Watson suggests it should assume, and which the New South Wales Government has recently suggested it should assume. As a matter of fact, it would appear that New South Wales is attempting to use the special circumstances of this case as a lever to obtain extra finance from the Commonwealth for normal housing purposes.

Let us look at the facts of this case. It arises from the necessity for the department to provide more suitable mailhandling facilities in Sydney - the need for which is becoming more and more urgent. The matter has now reached the stage where the move to provide those facilities must be commenced as soon as possible. From time to time pressure has been brought to bear by honorable members opposite, on behalf of the unions concerned, to ensure that better working facilities are provided. The move commenced in 1949, during the regime of the Chifley Government. I point out that everybody concerned in this matter has been thoroughly aware from that time of the department's plans. The New South Wales Government has had-adequate warning that it would need to provide alternate accommodation for those whom this proposal would dispossess. It is interesting, in view of the comments made by the honorable member for Watson, to note that there is on the file a memorandum prepared bv the Postmaster-General in the Chifley Government in 1949, in which it is stated, amongst other things -

It should not be necessary to displace the tenants for at least three years, by which time-

Honorable members will note this - the State Housing Commission expects to have better-class accommodation available.

That is a clear acceptance by a Minister of the previous Government of the fact that the State Housing Commission would be required to provide this accommodation. It expected to have the accommodation available by about 1952.

To continue with the survey of the position, I point out that the present Government moved to acquire the site in 1951. In 1952, following that acquisition, discussions took place regarding housing between the State authorities and the then PostmasterGeneral, who advised the State authorities that construction would be delayed for at least two or three years so that adequate time could be provided for the State to find the necessary housing. Therefore, it will be seen that the State Government has had at least seven or eight years' warning of its requirements in this matter. The contention that people are being dispossessed as a result of the Commonwealth's action and that the Commonwealth has a responsibility, which does not exist in any other case, to provide housing will not hold water. The tenants of the premises in question were warned on acquisition - that is, in 1951 and 1952 - that the site would be required for Commonwealth purposes, and that as the existing tenancies expired they would be renewed only on a weekly basis. They have been on that basis ever since. Further certain claims were made by some occupants for compensation. Those claims have been dealt with and satisfied, an amount of more than £130,000 having been paid in compensation. If that does not constitute adequate warning to all concerned, I do not know what does.

The honorable member for Watson will remember that he and I visited the area at least eighteen months ago. Walking around the site with the honorable member, I found that all the tenants were fully aware, even then, that they would have to vacate the premises and find other accommodation. So the tenants have been fully aware of the position. If no move has been made by those responsible for providing accommodation, I cannot accept the blame on behalf of the department or the Commonwealth Government.

The Government can wait no longer to set out to provide these postal facilities. I remind the House that some time last year the Public Works Committee investigated this proposal. That investigation was open to the public. The results of the committee's investigation were notified to this House and published in the press.

Finally, the House adopted this Redfern proposal. Following that, there was correspondence between the Commonwealth Government and the State Government, finally on a Prime Minister to Premier basis, with the result that a conference was held between the Commonwealth Minister responsible for housing, myself and the New South Wales Minister for Housing. That conference is referred to in the Prime Minister's letter which was read by the honorable member for Watson. The object of the conference was formally and finally to advise the New South Wales Government of the Commonwealth Government's intention to proceed with the new building. In addition, the New South Wales Minister for Housing was warned by me of the Government's intention to issue notices to quit to the present tenants, such notices to take effect as from next February. He was informed that we would require vacant possession of the premises by June, 1960. It was made very plain to the Minister that even under that programme we would not be in a position to complete the building and have it ready for operation at least until some time in 1964, and that, therefore, the matter was one of urgency.

It is correct that at that conference Mr. Landa, the New South Wales Minister for Housing, submitted a proposal that the Commonwealth should provide some funds to enable the State to go ahead with the provision of extra housing, but it must be clearly stated that the Commonwealth Minister responsible for housing accepted no obligation whatsoever on behalf of the Commonwealth Government to provide such finance.

I wish to make it clear that this new mail exchange, quite apart from being essential to the department, will be of major importance to the City of Sydney. It will cost more than £4,000,000.

Mr Cope - We do not dispute that for a minute.

Mr DAVIDSON - It will provide a great deal of employment over a period of about four years. A tremendous quantity of materials will be required for its erection. It will be of great value to the building industry in New South Wales. It will provide vastly improved conditions for the workers in the department. It will make a material contribution to a solution of the traffic problems of Sydney, because Pitt-street and the other streets adjacent to the present G.P.O. are already overcrowded and require a great deal of relief. By this proposal the department will be doing much to ease what is at present a great traffic problem to the State. In view of the value of the work to the State, I suggest it is only fair that the State now should bear its share of providing this building, that share being the provision of the necessary accommodation.

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