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Thursday, 19 November 1959

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works) . - It may be thought, at first glance, that to insist on a period of six sitting days as against the ten sitting days proposed by the honorable member is being unnecessarily technical. I think I should make it clear that the Government has no wish to prevent this Parliament from having reasonable control over what is proposed with regard to the planning of the national capital.

Mr J R FRASER - It must have absolute control.

Mr FREETH - That is so. But there are difficulties, particularly towards the end of a parliamentary session, which apply here. Ten sitting days at the beginning of a parliamentary session would involve no difficulty whatsoever, but very shortly this Parliament will be going into a recess which will last through most, if not all, of December, and through January and possibly a good part of February. During that time it will not be possible, if any change in the plan is proposed, to put that change into effect. It would have to wait until the House meets again. The Joint Parliamentary Committee was willing to agree to a period of seven sitting days, subject to a reference to it. I have already outlined to honorable members the existing safeguards whereby any change which can be regarded as a major change, or one on which public attention focuses, will be drawn to the attention of the public by the very processes it has to go through. The National Capital Planning Committee and the National Capital Development Commission give publicity to their own operations. Their discussions are highlighted and conveyed to the public through the ordinary media of information before any plans arc crystallized to the point of being laid before the Parliament. Those bodies did not exist when the existing period of fifteen sitting days was provided for.

I suggest to honorable members that what is required is not a longer period for the tabling of instruments of variations but. to use the words which the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory himself used, more thought to be given to such proposals. Gazettals of proposals can lie on the table for ten days without anybody being sufficiently interested to take any notice of them; but if the public is interested, and if the Joint Parliamentary Committee does its work properly - as I believe and hope it will - then both the Parliament and the public will be well informed of what is proposed. In those circumstances six sitting days which, at the barest minimum, will mean two weeks of the activities of the House, is plenty of time for thought to be clarified on any proposal.

Mr J R FRASER - There is no requirement that matters shall be referred to the committee.

Mr FREETH - I agree that there is no statutory requirement. I have given my own undertaking that while this committee is working I shall refer these proposals to it, and that is the best notice that I can undertake to give to the Parliament of what is brewing with regard to proposed changes in the plan of the capital. I do say, however, having regard to the fact that the original proposal stipulated five days, to make sure that a proposal would be tabled, in most cases, for two sitting weeks, and that the planning committee was willing, subject to the matter coming under its notice, to agree to seven days, that six days is not unreasonable in all the circumstances. As I say, there is very little danger, by comparison with what was the normal procedure formerly, that proposed changes will escape the notice of this Parliament. Therefore, I insist, as far as I am able to do so, that the period of six days should remain in the bill.

Question put -

That the amendment (Mr. J. R. Fraser's) be agreed to.

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