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Thursday, 27 May 1915

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - I ask the Senate to reject the motion, because it is practically an attempt to duplicate a proposal of the Government, which is already well in hand. As honorable senators are well aware, there is in existence a Committee of Public Works consisting of honorable members of the Senate, as well as honorable members of another place. It is not optional, but imperative, that all works likely to cost over £25,000 must, before being constructed under the authority of

Parliament, be submitted to that Committee. There is no doubt that anybody who looks at the matter from an unbiased point of view will say that such a body, comprising representatives of both Houses, selected, in most instances, by the respective parties because of their qualifications and knowledge of .certain lines of public works, must undoubtedly be the best and most representative authority to investigate a proposal of this sort. The speech of Senator Grant seems to be a complaint of fourteen years' standing, not that there is any particular difficulty today, not that progress is so slow to-day, but that the present Minister of Home Affairs or the present Government are responsible for the whole of the difficulty extending over that period. I might remind the honorable senator that, long before his arrival here, the Parliament was only too familiar with the position, and the Parliament, particularly this Chamber, repudiates any responsibility for a delay extending over fourteen years. Considerable progress has been made in the Federal Territory - not so much in the Federal Capital site itself, but with preliminary works, such as sewerage, water conservation, and .other utilities which must be developed and brought well in hand before the construction of the city itself can be undertaken. In these modern days, no person wishes to go to a capital to live where there is an inadequate supply of water or an imperfect system of sewering; far from it. Though' the buildings may be temporary, though they may not be on that grand scale on which we would like to see them erected in the Federal Capital, honorable senators are prepared to put up with inconvenience of that description, but they are certainly not prepared to put up with difficulties in regard to water supply and sewerage. During this year, we are spending a good deal of money in the Territory. It is true that there has been a little difficulty, but it has not been a dispute by any means. On the contrary, it is in regard to the exact position which Mr. Griffin occupies in the Home Affairs Department. It is continually referred to as a dispute between Mr. Griffin and the Minister of Home Affairs, but there has never been a dispute with Mr, Griffin since the advent of this Government to power, because we clearly defined the position of that gentleman, and expect him as an officer of the Commonwealth to carry out those instructions, or perform those functions, which we believe to be embodied in the agreement between the late Cook Government and Mr. Griffin.

Senator Henderson - I thought it was a question of a refusal to carry out his plan.

Senator RUSSELL - No. The chief complaint of Senator Grant is as to the delay which has occurred. There is no dispute in existence, because surely it is quite clear to honorable senators that if the Cabinet, through the Minister of Home Affairs, clearly lets Mr. Griffin know what his duties are, no one House of Parliament is going to say that he or anybody else should have the right to dictate to the supreme Government of the Commonwealth. Therefore, his option is to accept the decision of the Cabinet, or to test that decision in the Courts, if need be, under the agreement, or if not satisfied, to resign. The Government take the view that Mr. Griffin is an officer of the Commonwealth, being practically a member of the Home Affairs staff, and are determined that his duties shall be defined and carried out under instructions directly received from the responsible Minister of the Department. I do not wish to do Mr. Griffin any injustice, because I believe him to be a very competent and clever man in his own walk in life, but let me give a summary of the position. Competitive designs for the Federal Capital were called for; Mr. Griffin's design was selected by a Board appointed for that purpose, but no sensible person would claim that any one of the number of designs embodied all the most perfect ideas, and all the latest and most modern schemes for a big city. Although Mr. Griffin was the prize-winner, it is possible that because of 75 per cent, of good points in his design it was selected. But even the best design may have 25, or 15, or 10, or even 5 per cent, of defects, which it is very desirable should be removed. Therefore 'Mr. King O'Malley appointed a departmental Board, consisting of gentlemen who, at that time, were believed to be the most competent officers in the Commonwealth, to decide the question. They did not set out with the desire to wipe out Mr. Griffin's design, but from a consideration of the other designs which, though not successful in winning the prizes, they suggested many very bright and fine ideas. In this way, and with the exercise of some originality on their own part, they tried to make the design for the Capital as perfect as possible. It has been said that the officers, although they had not brains enough to win the competition, waited until somebody had suggested an original scheme, and then came in and prepared a design of their own, calling it the departmental design. I desire to say in justice to the officers, whom most honorable members are well acquainted with, that they did not suggest an original design of their own. They -Have never claimed to have prepared a design of their own. All that they did do under the instructions of MrKing O'Malley was to take in bulk Mr. Griffin's design, and where they saw a good idea, or what they believed to be a more perfect idea in regard to one aspect of the question than was contained in his design, they adopted that, and so brought together the best ideas of the best minds in the competition, plus any little original suggestion they themselves had to make. They do not claim originality for the departmental plan, nor do they claim it as their own. They only claim that, as officers employed because of their special knowledge, they did try to give the Commonwealth the best service they could by carrying out the instructions received from the then Minister of Home Affairs, and, that being the case, I trust that no reflections or charges will be made against the officers in that connexion. Honorable senators know that the design was for a Federal city, but there were many works to be constructed quite outside of the city area, such as, for instance, water supply and sewerage works, which were matters for engineers rather than for an architect to consider. A competent staff of engineers was in the employ of the Department, and they were asked to prepare plans for the works and carry them out. They did so, and I am pleased to say that all those competent authorities who have been able to judge have declared that the works have been carried out faithfully and well, and are a credit to the Department.

Senator de Largie - Who are those authorities ?

Senator RUSSELL - Take, for instance, the Public Works Committee as a representative body, who have recently had the opportunity of inspecting the works which have all been carried out under the control of the engineering staff of the Department. I think it is recognised by honorable senators that Mr. Griffin's special work is that of an architect. I believe that it is very creditable, and that he deserves all credit for his efforts. We do not desire to modify in any way his claim in regard to the magnificent design he submitted; far from it. But the design for the Capital does not embrace that area of country which is situated outside of the city square. Mr. Griffin's design was subsequently adopted by the Cook Government, for whom Mr. William Kelly was acting practically as Minister of Home Affairs. He put on one side the departmental plan, offered an engagement to Mr. Griffin, and brought him from America. Mr. Kelly, when asked why Mr. Griffin was brought to Australia, said -

The agreement with Mr. Griffin provides that he will advise upon, and, if so requested by the Minister, prepare conditions of competition for public buildings and works for the Federal city, and preliminary feature plans for the guidance of competitors. It is proposed to use his advice to insure harmonious structural development. The Government will be able to have the erection of the buildings supervised by its own officers.

Therefore, the intention of the Cook Government in bringing Mr. Griffin to Australia was that be should be. an officer of the Minister of Home Affairs in the construction of the buildings and the general city design. It was never intended - as Mr. Griffin claims - that he should be charged with the duty of carrying out the whole of the works at the Federal Capita], that Parliament should merely be called upon to vote a lump sum for the purpose, and that he should be at liberty to engage a staff of his own. When competitive designs were invited for the Capital, it was never suggested that the engineers of the Department of Home Affairs were incompetent to undertake engineering work in any part of Australia. Had there been any .such suggestion there might be some justice in Mr. Griffin's contention. But on no occasion has Mr. Griffin asked for engineering assistance without having it placed at his disposal by the Department. I desire now to say a word or two in connexion with the so-called dispute between this officer and the Minister of Home Affairs. When Mr. Griffin's plan was adopted, Mr. Coane, one of the leading engineers, who was on the Board of adjudicators, did not place it either first, second, or third. His reason was that, though he regarded Mr. Griffin's design asa good one, he was of opinion that the engineering difficulties in the way of giving effect to it practically put it out of court. The Minister of Home Affairs, shortly after his advent to office, decided to make inquiries into these engineering difficulties. Accordingly, he asked Mr. Griffin to present him with a plan of certain levels. As a matter of fact, I understand that great difficulty and considerable expense would be involved in giving effect to Mr. Griffin's scheme. The Minister has, from time to time, requested his officers to report upon certain matters which he proposes remitting to the Public Works Committee for investigation. The Government are anxious to push on with necessary undertakings at the Federal Capital, and there is only one difficulty in the way of their doing so - the difficulty of finance. The Department is willing to work harmoniously with Mr. Griffin under the terms of his agreement, but not outside of it. We all know that every work involving an expenditure of more than £20,000 must be referred to the Public Works Committee for inquiry and report. Seeing that this Parliament has constituted that body for the special purpose of investigating projected public works, I hope that we shall not now turn round and say that, we have no confidence in it. Let us suppose that a Committee were appointed by this Chamber in accordance with the terms of Senator Grant's motion. What would happen? We shouldbe in the farcical position of having two Committees investigating the one subject.

Senator O'Keefe - Suppose that they brought in different reports?

Senator RUSSELL - In that case, which report would carry most weight? Would it he the report of the Committee appointed by this. Chamber - a Committee practically consisting of the representatives of both political parties-or the report of the Public Works Committee? I say that we ought not to do the same work twice over. Such a course is totally unnecessary. I feel certain that the moment the recommendations of the Public Works Committee are forthcoming--

Senator Watson - When docs the Assistant Minister anticipate that its report will be received?

Senator RUSSELL - The Government have no power to anticipate its report. I hope, however, that it will be forthcoming this week. I do not know that we could not even suggest to its members the wisdom of hurrying it up, as the " Ma " State is getting anxious. The moment we have the report of this body we will push on with the works at the Federal Capital with all possible speed, subject only to the limitations of finance.

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