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Thursday, 3 November 1921

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - As a senator representing New South Wales, I approach ' this matter from a broad national stand-point, and I hope to always approach all questions that come before this Senate in a similar spirit. During the four years I have been a member of the Senate, 1 have, from a broad national stand-point, recorded my vote to help the State of Tasmania, and my assistance will always be given to help a sister State when I think it is in the interest of the Australian nation. My vote has been recorded in favour of defraying out of Consolidated Revenue a yearly deficit of nearly £500,000 on the transcontinental railway, which links Western Australia with the eastern part of the continent. My vote has also been recorded in favour of paying out of Consolidated Revenue the money to meet the very heavy deficit in connexion with the Commonwealth's administration of the Northern Territory; and I have also supported proposals for taxing the whole of the people of Australia in order to preserve the Queensland sugar industry. Probably next week I shall be on the horns of a dilemma in deciding whether I shall support an import duty of1d. per lb. on bananas in order to preserve another Australian State industry.

Senator Foster - Are not bananas grown in New South Wales?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - New South Wales is peopled by at least 40 per cent, of the total population of the Commonwealth, who pay 42 per cent, of all the taxation derived in the Commonwealth, and that State does most to fill the overflowing coffers that the Commonwealth Government have had during the last few years. In view of this, the people of New South Wales regard any permanent dispossession of the Capital city, provided for in the Constitution, as a breach of faith, and it may be considered more than that in the not distant future. It may be a casus belli against the rest of the Commonwealth. As I have said, I desire to approach this question from the broad national stand-point.

Senator Russell - If that is so, why should the honorable senator issue a threat?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I merely mentioned something that may occur without my assistance if the strong feeling which exists in the mother State is consistently ignored and flouted. I believe one of the many reasons why the people of New South Wales are united in this connexion is because of the disabilities under which they labour owing to the Seat of Government being in Melbourne. It can readily be seen that if a State in which nearly one-half of the population of the Commonwealth reside is treated indifferently in consequence of the administrative Departments being centralized in Melbourne, that dissatisfaction will prevail and increase. That centralization results, too, in the corridors being filled by the inhabitants of this fair State. We see evidences in the Melbourne press every day of the unfairness with which Federal matters are treated. Seeing that the time is now fully ripe to take into serious consideration, not only the construction, but the completion, of the Federal Capital, I ask myself what judgment one should come to on the matter. I am with the Minister in believing that the suggestion of my colleague, Senator Thomas, to go to Canberra in the next session is impracticable. A practical problem has been suggested by the report recently issued by the Advisory Committee. On that report, and apropos of the remarks of Senator Foster, and the criticism of an ex-Minister, I am not altogether satisfied with the personnel of that Committee. From its inception I was of the opinion that no officers of the Department concerned should have been appointed, to it.. It should have been an independent body, representative to an even, greater extent than, it is now of outside opinion and experience. No departmental officers should be placed! in the invidious position of sitting in judgment on their own work. The Commonwealth owns in the Federal Territory an area of nearly 1,000 square miles - not the minimum of 100 square miles, as provided for by the Constitution. Our proposition is to obtain revenue to balance the expenditure, as far as possible. We shall get no revenue- by the present dilettante methods which so often lead to- report after report, and embroglio after embroglio. For four years I have been in this Parliament, and after oceans of reports, and all sorts of recriminations Between the parties concerned, professional jealousies, and piquant personalities, .we have arrived at the stage,. T think, when this Parliament is unanimous, anc} will be unanimous, in- insisting that we get en with the work of establishing- the Capital at- a reasonable rate. While doing so we should have value for the money expended; and within a minimum, certainly, of three years, and perhaps a maximum of five, we should be able to legislate in our own hall, free and un-. trammelled by any of the sectional State interests by which we are at present surrounded.

Senator Foster - I suppose you will agree that the Capital should be built out of revenue, and not out of loan money ?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I disagree entirely to that suggestion. If the work progresses at a reasonable rate, some return on the money already expended should begin to come in within a year. I am not satisfied with the rate of progress made at the Capital site during the last twelve months. Honorable senators will remember that, after a good deal of argument, a majority was obtained in both Houses, on division, to re-start the Federal Capital works, and to spend for the then current financial year, which ended on the 30th June last, the sum of £150,000.

Senator Keating - What argument was there?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There was some opposition, and there was a division, and those in favour of going on with the building of the Capital forthwith were in a handsome majority in both Houses. Following on the vote for £150,000, the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was good enough to interest himself personally in connexion with the continuation of the building of the Capital. I was one of a party that went there with the Prime Minister, the Minister for Home and Territories, and the Minister for Works and Railways, for the express purpose of deciding on some plan by which the £150,000 could be best expended in the financial year: I think it was fairly unanimously decided by all of us, including the Works Director, the Commonwealth SurveyorGeneral, and one or two experts who accompanied us, that the money should be spent in the erection of a Convention Hall, a Hostel, and a number of workmen's cottages, and by making miles of roads, doing a good deal of tree-planting, and also by purchasing from the Imperial Government, the internment camp at Molonglo for the temporary housing accommodation, for a few years at all events, of the many hundreds of workmen intended to be employed.

Senator Keating - You are not yet assured of the Convention.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is what was fairly unanimously decided nearly twelve months ago. What has been done since?

Senator Keating - May we take it that the Senate will approve of the Convention?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not wish to be side-tracked into an argument with the honorable senator. I wish to deal with what has actually occurred in connexion with the proposal for the erection of the Federal Capital. All those things were decided last November, and were acquiesced in and approved by the Director of Works, and the Commonwealth Surveyor-General, but I do not believe the roofs are on ten out of the many cottages that were to be built. Certainly a little rood-making has been, done, and a little tree-planting. But I believe a great number of trees had to be burnt, because there was no use for them. It is true that the internment camp has been bought, and the money paid to the British Government, but I understand that not even the plans and the designs for the Convention Hall and the Hostel are completed.

Senator Keating - Will you give us an assurance that you: will support a Convention ?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I remind my friend that a Convention Hall need not necessarily house a Constitutional Convention. There are other Conventions, and the Senate itself might well sit in the Hall.

Senator Keating - But the suggestion for a Convention Hall was based on the probability of a Constitutional Convention.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I believe it was, and I say unhesitatingly that, should a Convention be called in the not distant future, the most spectacular and most reasonable place to hold it would be in a hall built in the Federal Territory, and there only should we be away from, the sectional influences which so often affect the deliberations of the National Parliament. Now we are in the year of our Lord 1921, and it is the month of November, which is the last month but one of the year. In spite of all the talk and efforts of the last three years, and in spite of the decision of Parliament itself, if the work at Canberra does not progress any faster than it has up to the present we shall not be there for twenty years. I believe the whole control of the erection of the Capital city will have to be reorganized. The present position is exceedingly unsatisfactory, so far as the representatives from New South Wales are concerned. There appears to me to be the mailed fist, the cloven foot, or the clutching hand still overshadowing the proposition. I would like to see some business men in control of the whole enterprise, with instructions from this Parliament to carry on the work to the extent of the money voted, and on the basis of the plan decided by Mr. Walter Burley Griffin.

Senator Keating - What do you mean by business men?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Men who are not Government officials, men who have no vested interests whatsoever which would interfere with their giving patriotic and experienced service. There is a very strong feeling indeed in Sydney amongst architects in connexion with Government work. Does the honorable senator realize that the Commonwealth is spending millions of money on buildings to-day, and there is not one competitive architectural design called f or ? The whole of the work is done in the Department by an attenuated staff. The same conditions may obtain in connexion with the work at Canberra. We know what human nature is. The only hope for Canberra is to get more outside business assistance than it has today.

Senator Keating - If we had a few Melbourne business men concerned in it, it would be a long time . before you would see Canberra.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Perhaps so, but I do not think the New South Wales representatives would be satisfied to leave the matter to the business men of Melbourne. I am altogether dissatisfied with the laboured results of Canberra up to date. I am sure that it is not the fault of the Prime Minister. Parliament has voted the money. There is a hitch somewhere, and a hitch will not do for New South Wales. I want to say quite frankly that Parliament will do the fair thing this year in the present state of the finance if it votes for Canberra the £200,000 which is on the Estimates. I believe it. did the fair thing last year in voting £150,000 proposed by the Government, but I would like to see something substantial obtained for the money that is spent. The longer the time the works are spread over the greater the amount of money that is frittered away. The land ordinances have been issued; they provide for an immediate revenue if the devlopment of the Capital is attractive enough, to bring people there to build on their own account, and to lease land from the Commonwealth. It has been stated, I believe, with much proof, that when the Capital is. well advanced we shall receive a very substantial sum indeed in rents from the land - a sum that will go a long way towards meeting the interest on the money that will be spent there. I support the amendment, and I hope that my honorable colleague from New South Wales will accept it. I hope it will be unanimously carried by the Senate, .in the national spirit in which these deliberations ought to be conducted.

Senator Foster - Will the honorable senator tell u's whether he agrees with the alleged hotch-potch methods of building now employed, or whether he thinks there ought to be a complete building design ?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I believe that we cannot commit ourselves to any speculative expenditure just now. Our attitude towards the Capital, in post-war days, must of- necessity be quite different from our attitude before the war. I believe that the people of New South Wales will be satisfied if they see that there is not merely an earnest and sincere desire to proceed with the Capital, but that the work is actually going on. I want to remind my colleagues? that not only has a resolution been placed before honorable senators from a National Conference, but that a large public meeting was held not long ago in the Sydney Town Hall for the purpose of urging upon the Government the necessity of expediting the erection of the Federal Capital. At that meeting the principal speaker was our late friend, the honorable Mr. T. J. Ryan, who spoke for, and on behalf of, the Labour party. The town hall was packed. At the meeting a resolution was passed, and indorsed by the Labour leaders of New South Wales, that the Government should be urged to complete the Federal Capital quickly. It is an obligation which this Parliament owes to the whole of the people of New South Wales. Not only the honorable senators who represent New South Wales, but the representative organizations of that State expect that the compact will be kept ; but it is not asked that it shall be more than reasonably kept. The definition of " reasonable " in this matter is a "steady, solid, real progress towards the ultimate completion of the Capital," and a progress accelerated in certain directions to enable members of the National Parliament to meet at Canberra at a reasonably early date.

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