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Thursday, 1 December 1960

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for the Interior and Minister for Public Works) . - The Government cannot accept the amendment proposed by the Opposition. This matter was thoroughly canvassed, as honorable members will recollect, earlier this year when this very point was raised in connexion with an amendment of the Public Works Committee Act. I explained then - apparently to the satisfaction of the House, because my explanation was accepted - that it was not desirable to make the undertakings of the National Capital Development Commission subject to the scrutiny of the Public Works Committee.

The commission was set up to avoid as far as possible, in matters relating to town planning, as it were, the usual administrative processes which go on in an ordinary government department.

By setting up the commission the Executive deprived itself of the ordinary direct control which an executive has over an ordinary government department. The commission was to be almost a separate instrumentality which would devote itself to the planning of Canberra. It was not to be fettered by normal administrative control. The Executive, which of course is responsible to Parliament, divested itself of some control. It would hardly be willing to bring back to Parliament the control of which it had divested itself, thereby, by virtue of its responsibility to Parliament, leaving itself open to criticism in relation to something over which it had rather a nominal and limited control.

However, there are so many other safeguards in relation to the National Capital Development Commission that it is not felt that the particular control under discussion is necessary or desirable. In the first place, the commission has many committees to guide it. There is the National Capital Planning Committee which consists of experts in their own fields from all over the Commonwealth. It includes experts in art, academic design and the like. This body is far more authoritative in its particular field than is the Public Works Committee. That is one way in which control is exercised over planning.

The Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council has some voice in planning. The commission sends a representative to meetings of the council to explain and discuss its proposals. To my mind, it is important that the Advisory Council should be encouraged to take an increasing degree of responsibility if it is to develop into a more responsible body with more authority than it has now. I hope that some day this will come to pass.

We have also a standing committee of Parliament which interests itself in the overall planning activities of the commission and undertakes specific projects which may be referred to it by the Minister. These are desirable ways in which indirect supervision is exercised over the planning of the commission.

The Public Works Committee is slightly different from the other bodies that I have mentioned. Its main function is to see whether it is expedient that a particular public work should be proceeded with. It is not concerned primarily with the nature or the cost of the work, although those aspects arise incidentally in the committee's deliberations. The committee merely has to say yes or no to a proposal that is submitted to it.

The object in setting up the commission was to give it a specific sum of money each year and to tell it to do the best that it could with that sum of money in the development of the National Capital. Since the Executive has taken that step, with the approval of Parliament, I believe that the matter should be left as it now stands.

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