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Tuesday, 12 December 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - I compliment the Government upon their recognition of the soundness of the policy of securing the freehold of the site which they propose to purchase.

Senator Pearce - We are setting out to nationalize the United Kingdom ! The honorable senator does not realize what this means 1

Senator ST LEDGER - We must take it that by the carrying of this resolution the Government are announcing to the people of Australia that even if a person takes up only 50 acres of land in Commonwealth Territory, and desires to get the freehold, the Government will, as far as possible, meet his wish. There is another matter upon Which I heartily congratulate the Government. It is almost personal to myself. I am glad that they have adopted the principle which I have again and again advocated in the Senate: that they should .not charge to one year's revenue the whole cost of their permanent works. For advocating that policy I have been denounced time after time by honorable senators opposite as though I were an individual who had escaped from a lunatic asylum, or who ought to be placed in one. I have pointed out repeatedly that when a permanent work like a post-office, costing anything from £5,000 to £50,000, has to be erected, we should not charge the whole sum to the current year's revenue, but should spread the cost over a number of years. Now, I am glad to observe that the Government have committed, so to speak, an act of political larceny, by stealing my financial policy, and have asked the London County Council to meet them in regard to the terms which I have described. I am unselfish enough to suppress on this occasion, in the interests of the country, any indignation which I might feel at the action of the Government in stealing out of my pocket, so to speak, a piece of policy, and carrying it away to London with them, where they have made magnificent use of it in dealing with the County Council. But it will now, I trust, be admitted that when I advocated that policy in regard to Commonwealth affairs I was something more than a Saul among the prophets. Notwithstanding, however, that in these two respects I have found strong reasons for congratulating the Government, I intend to vote against this proposal. They propose to spend upwards of £500,000 in erecting a magnificent building in London, which is intended to be worthy of this Commonwealth. I admit that. I believe those who have seen the site, and who tell us that it is admirably suited for the purpose. Probably we are getting very good value for the money. We are led to believe that the building is to be used as a centre for a most vigorous compaign carried throughout the United Kingdom and the Continent of Europe for advertising the resources of Australia, with a view of inducing a large and continuous stream of immigration to flow into the Commonwealth.

Senator McGregor - More immigrants are coming now than ever came when the honorable senator's party was in office.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am aware of that ; and I am also aware of the fact that Her lamented Majesty Queen Anne is dead. I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the information that some difficulty is experienced at present even by those immigrants who are prepared to pay the whole of their passage money in securing berths. But that seems to me to be the result of the policy of the Government now occupying the Treasury benches.

Senator Lynch - People had to be paid to come to this country while the honorable senator's party was in power.

Senator ST LEDGER - A tu quo que is the last resource of an individual who has no other argument at his command. The example of Canada has been pointed out as a precedent. Senator Vardon has had the advantage, not only of examining this site, but of studying the Canadian example on the spot. But what was Canada doing for years before she invested her money in palatial offices in London? .She was conducting a vigorous immigration campaign. It is true that the Canadian Government did not take out immigrants from the United Kingdom to Canada, but it spent large sums in advertising the resources of the Dominion. For the past five or six years, and even, for a longer period, the Canadian Government have spent from £160,000 to £200,000 a year in advertising Canadian resources. The whole reason for appointing a Canadian High Commissioner, and installing him in palatial offices, was to develop Canada by promoting an immense stream of immigration. The reason why I take exception to this proposal now is that it appears to me to be like putting the cart before the horse. There has never been placed upon the Estimates of the Commonwealth a sum of more than £20,000 in any one year to promote immigration. Compare that paltry sum with the large amount spent by Canada for this purpose. In point of fact, we have never spent anything like £20,000 in one year. Sometimes we have spent less than half that amount. It is useless to go to the expense of providing palatial offices, no matter how favorably they may be situated, and no matter how well calculated they may be to serve as a central rallying point for Australian interests in the United Kingdom, unless the Government are prepared to place on the Estimates a sum of money commensurate with the work which ought to be done, and will soon have to be done, in promoting immigration.

Senator Rae - Would the honorable senator's party pursue that policy if it were in power?

Senator ST LEDGER - I believe that no party that has been in power in the Commonwealth has done enough in this regard. When my own party was in power I said very much the same as I am saying now. I said that I would not give them my support unless they altered in some respects their financial proposals with regard to the method of charging for permanent works, and also unless they increased the amount to be spent in promoting immigration. That wish of mine was never realized.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We cannot get ships enough to bring immigrants to Australia now.

Senator ST LEDGER - I have not the slightest doubt but that if Australia were spending £100,000 a year for this purpose it would not be very long before ship-owners would make provision to bring immigrants in the same num'bers to Australia as they have been taken to Canada in recent years. But as long as we have a party ' in power that will only put down £20,000 on the Estimates, and spend less, we shall never do what ought to be done, however advantageous the policy may be from other points of view. The central purpose and reason for such an office in London must be to enable us to promote a vigorous developmental policy for Australia. I regret that I am called upon to vote for a motion to spend over £500,000 on Commonwealth offices in London, manifestly for the purpose of advertising Australia, when I know that no more than £20,000 has been placed on the Estimates to carry out the most important work which can be done from those offices. So far as the real interests of Australia are concerned, I believe that the money so far spent on advertising Australia might just as well have been thrown into the Yarra. Knowing the amount that is to be spent, or is likely to be spent, this year upon what I consider the main purpose of the establishment of the London offices, I must regard this proposal as a beginning at the wrong end, and for that reason I strongly appose it.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We shall require to have a line of ships of our own.

Senator ST LEDGER - That suggestion has some reason in it, and if that be our only resort we must, of course, adopt it. I shall not follow the interjection further. The Minister has referred to some correspondence which has passed between the Commonwealth and State Governments in connexion with this matter, and it has been represented in another place that, with the exception of the Queensland Government, all the State Governments have responded more or less favorably to the proposals made by the Commonwealth Government. It would scarcely lie with any State Government to interfere in a matter of this kind, beyond, it may be, a formal protest, or a suggestion that the proposed expenditure is unnecessary. I do not know that the Queensland Government are opposed to this proposal, but it is only fair that it should be mentioned that they are under an obligation, by their lease of the premises occupied by the State Agent-General, to continue to occupy those premises until 1943. That may be a reason for the statement that the Queensland Government do not accept this proposal as readily as do the Governments of the other States. But even if the Queensland Government were heartily in accord with the proposal, I should still oppose it, for the reasons I have mentioned. Possibly from a financial point of view, it represents a sound business transaction, and if it were accompanied with another to spend £100,000 on advertising Australia, I should be willing to vote for it. I should be willing to vote for the expenditure of another ,£500,000 in connexion with a similar proposal if a further ,£100,000 was to be spent in promoting immigration to Australia. Believing as I do that Commonwealth offices in London will be of little or no use until the Government have initiated a vigorous immigration policy, I shall oppose all such proposals as this, until steps are taken to put such a policy into effect.

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