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Wednesday, 12 October 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) . - I desire to say a few words upon one aspect of the subject-matter of the motion, which indicates the circumstances in which the next meeting of this Parliament should assemble.I propose to leave to my colleague, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell), the details of the reasons why it will be impossible for the Government to literally carry out the proposal. Senator Thomas has himself indicated that, with the lapse of time which has occurred' since he first tabled his motion, a different complexion has been cast upon the situation. It would be impossible, short of an avalanche of financial assistance falling uponthe Government, for the next session of the Legislature to be held at Canberra.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Ido not think it is a matter of money.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I regard the motion as an expression of opinion that, at some reasonably early period, a definite move should be made in that direction. I wish to say a word, first, as to what I conceive to be the attitude of New South Wales. I would not like to 'have it believed that that State is unreasonable, or lacking in a proper sense of what is due to the country at large, or unimpressed with the difficulties which confront the Government to-day. New South Wales has possessed her soul in patience: she has accepted the inevitable, and she would . not have been so vocal as she has been upon this matter but for one consideration. When it was obvious that efforts were being made - some of them finding expression in speeches delivered in this Parliament - to delay thetransfer of the Seat of Government to Canberra, New South Wales said very little. She expected such opposition. But what has aroused New South Wales to indignation is the obvious suggestion of repudiation now running through much of the opposition. New South Wales has considered the special circumstances of . thecountry due to the war and has been content to wait. She would even now consent to further delay if she were assured that at the end of a reasonable . period the promise would be redeemed. She has been warned, however, by the press of this city and by the representatives of this State, that it is not delay, but the cancellation of the contract, which is being sought. Senator Thomas rather surprised me when he read some extracts from an article published in the Melbourne Age. . The leader writer of that newspaper must have been at the time, like Jove, nodding, when he wrote that no honest man would repudiate the obligation. But who was it that called; the Canberra project a scheme to erect a " bush capital " ? It was the Age. If Canberra is a bush capital to-day, and if that is an objection to the establishment of the Federal Parliament there, it is an objection which will hold good next year and ten years hence. Has the Age ever described the proposition as a good one If Has the A ge ever said that the contract is one which ought to behonoured, but in respect of which there should be some little further reasonabledelay? No; the Age has referred to Canberra as"this bush capital " and hascreated a prejudice in the public mind against it. Its arguments have not been for delay; its references to "a bush capital ' ' have not -been in the interests of reasonable postponement. They -have all been levelled at the abandonment of the project; which is exactly what the Age seeks. That newspaper has referred to a tremendous amount of waste incurred by creating a Federal Capital at Canberra when there is at disposal this magnificent city of Melbourne. That is an argument that will be as strong five years hence as it is to-day. It is an argument not for postponement, but one which suggests the wisdom of the abandonment of the contract. The Age . says the scheme is a danger to Democracy. If it is a danger to-day the argument is one directed against going there at all.I shall cite one other argument, namely, the reference of the Age to the discomforts which will have to be borne by members of Parliament. One is. disposed to smile. When the Greeks bring gifts take the liberty of becoming suspicious. In any -case, if the transfer of the Seat of Government to Canberra will prove a discomfort to members in 1922 or 1923 the journey will be equally as uncomfortablein 1933 or 1934. Here, then-, is another argument, not for postponement, but for abandonment. A great cry for economy has been raised in this State; but has it ever occurred to the public that -there is a very close connexion between that cry and the opposition of Victoria to the creation of Canberra as- the Federal Capital? I say that there is a very close connexion.

Senator Senior -It is quite obvious.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If it entailed greater expenditure to remain here and would mean actual economy to go to Canberra, the hostility displayed in this State and city would not be lessened. There has grown in the minds of the people of New South Wales the thought that these arguments have not been advanced as pleas for postponement, but that they have all been levelled at the creation of a public feeling which will render possible the abandonment of the Federal Capital scheme. In spite of all the clamour of hostility, I take the liberty of doubting whether Victoria as a whole is opposed to the transfer. Of course, I could get no support in Collinsstreet, and possibly none within the four corners of the " Block," but I shall take Victoria as a whole. Victoria was a party to the original compact. She voted for the Constitution, in which the question of the Capital was left open. When the Constitution was amended Victoria was called upon to vote again. How did Victoria vote ? With a diminished majority? No; but always with the same uniform majority as on the. first occasion, and she voted for the amended Constitution, in which New South Wales was being conceded the privilege of having the Federal Capital established within its territory.

Senator Russell - On the second occasion, only 12,000 voted against it.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I thank the honorable senator for reminding me of that. Victoria supported the amendment, well knowing the arrangement made. Senator Russell, who has been known on the platform as a supporter of the proposal on the ground that it was embodied in the Constitution, on one occasion told an audience that, being under age at the time, he was not one of . those who had made the compact, but he said the people of Victoria had made it, and, if they wanted anybody to help break it, it would be necessary to get somebody other than himself. So it does not look as though Victoria was so hostile as Melbourne metropolitan journals would lead us to believe. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) is a typical Victorian, who is well versed in politics. He was a member of the Hughes Government at the last election, and he went out as a supporter ofthe platform that the Government then submitted. The programme con tained adherence to the redemption of the Canberra compact. Mr. Watt had an easy win, and I have never heard anybody say that he was flying in the face of the public opinion of Victoria. There are certain sections in Victoria who, consciously or unconsciously, are moved by their own local interests, and they are doing all they can to create a public opinion so strong that it will hamper the Government . in its plain duty to redeem a pledge contained in the Constitution itself. Let me deal with one of the arguments addressed to the Chamber by Senator Wilson, because that argument also suggests repudiation. He said that those who made the compact could alter it. If he means that by submitting that question now, as an amendment of the Constitution, a majority of . the people of Australia could alter it, I beg to differ. Technically they could, but this is 'a compact between the people of five States and the people of one State, and the compact cannot be morally altered -unless we get the consent, not only of the five States, but of the one also.

Senator Vardon - In justice to Senator Wilson, I think he admitted that it would need the consent of New South Wales.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If New South Wales agreed to it, well and good; but I thought he said he would not be content to take the vote of New South Wales in determining the matter.

Senator Senior - I do not think there is a feeling in any of the States in favour of abandoning the project.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then why denounce it in terms which, if they -mean anything, suggest that the project ought to be abandoned?

Senator Senior - There is no such feeling in South Australia.

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