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Thursday, 1 December 1960


Mr O'CONNOR (Dalley) .- During question-time I addressed a question to the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) asking why the Government made major alterations in respect of the recommendations of the Public Works Committee on the Darwin High School. The Minister did not answer my question' properly. Up to this morning I had always thought that the Minister was a responsible Minister, but after his reply to my question' I think I must have been suffering from some sort of delusion, because he attempted to evade answering the question in the terms that I put to him. I asked him, first, why the recommendations were rejected and under what authority the Government acted in proceeding with the changed plans without resubmitting the project to the committee. He attempted to justify the Government's action by misrepresenting not only the report of the Public Works Committee but also by misquoting that report.

I believe that up to now, and by tradition, the Public Works Committee functions in the following ways: It prepares a report which it submits to this Parliament. The Parliament has the authority to accept the report, to reject the report or, if it disagrees with its contents, but does not reject it, to refer the report back to the committee for reconsideration. In this case the Government did none of those things. Instead, it took it upon itself to alter the proposals drastically. The major alterations it made were the elimination of airconditioning as recommended in the report, and the rejection of the recommendation for the inclusion of an assembly hall.

In his reply to me the Minister misquoted and misrepresented not only the decisions of the committee but also the evidence that the committee took. He said in the beginning that stage 3, as submitted to the committee, would cost £353,000. Never at any time during the committee's hearings did it receive a submission from the Department of Works giving that figure. The first figure we received was of £400,000: That figure was given in evidence by Mr. Osborne when the committee met in Melbourne. At the same time we were advised that the figure was subject to correction. When we arrived at Darwin and took additional evidence we were informed by officials there that the estimates had been re-checked and that as a result the estimate for stage 3 would be £454,000. That is the estimated figure that the Public Works Committee received, and not the figure of £353,000 as the Minister informed the House this morning, thereby misleading honorable members.

Air-conditioning was the subject of one of the proposals submitted to the committee, and when we made our official submission on air-conditioning, based on all the evidence that had been given to us on that subject, we made an additional recommendation that an assembly hall be included, provision of which would have brought the cost of the project to £545,000. Now we find that the Government has decided not to have air-conditioning in the school, and not to have an assembly hall there either. The statement made by the Minister to-day completely misrepresented the Public Works Committee's recom.dations.

The committee was particularly anxious that air-conditioning be included in the Darwin High School, because Darwin is in an area which has a. monsoonal period. All the evidence that we took supported the provision of air-conditioning. The only witness who disagreed in this respect was a doctor. Having listened to witness after witness give evidence on the matter, I have come to the conclusion that the only people who do not want air-conditioning are people who are impervious to heat. Because they do not feel the effect of heat in such tropic climes as Darwin's, they believe that there is no necessity for air-conditioning. The evidence, however, was overwhelmingly in favour of air-conditioning, and the Public Works Committee accordingly recom- mended its installation. Now the Government, on the ground of cost, has decided to eliminate air-conditioning from the project. The air-conditioning was to cost £109,000. The Government has decided to install, instead, mechanical ventilation at a cost of approximately £50,000, although all the expert evidence available shows conclusively that mechanical ventilation is no more effective than natural air.

In order to save face, the Government has come before the House and told us that it will install mechanical ventilation, to cost £50,000, though the effect of the installation of this means of ventilation will be absolutely nil. It would be hard to demolish an argument in favour of the installation of air-conditioning in the Darwin High School, because everybody knows what Darwin's climate is, and how necessary it is to attract people to work and live in Darwin, and how necessary it is to develop high schools there at this stage of development and growth. To attract people there we must give them conditions that make for a comfortable life.

It is beyond all doubt that an assembly hall in a school has become a must in modern education. Yet this Government, which can find - and I do not disagree with this - the money to put an assembly hall at Lyneham High School, in Canberra, finds every objection to putting an assembly hall in a high school at Darwin. If it is possible to provide an assembly hall in a Canberra school, why is it not possible to do so in such an out-of-the-way place - and such a very important place - as Darwin.

In his statement to-day, the Minister said that the Government could not, and would not, spend such an amount of money on a school to provide for only 500 pupils. I say that the Minister has not read the report of the Public Works Committee properly. If he had done so, and had paid any attention to the evidence submitted to the committee by officials of various departments, and the evidence supplied by the Northern Territory Administration, he would realize that there is no justification for contemptuously dismissing the committee's proposals on the ground that they are not called for in a school to serve only 500 pupils. The evidence submitted to us in Darwin was that the population of Darwin would increase by 25 per cent, if the present rate of development there continues.

Debate interrupted under Standing Order No. 291.

Question resolved in the negative.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.







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