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Thursday, 8 July 1926

Senator REID (Queensland) .- As a member of the Public Works Committee, I have been at Canberra, and I know something of the conditions there, but I do not see what Senator Findley expects to gain by submitting his amendment. Acting, probably, under legal advice the Federal Capital Commission has taken unto itself certain powers, which others declare go beyond even the power of this Parliament, and the Crown Law Department has been called upon to settle the point. The purpose of the Public Works Committee in calling attention to bhe step taken by the Federal Capital Commission was to have the matter cleared up, and not to interfere with the work of the commission. As things are now, the chairman of that commission is the commission itself. In letting contracts in his own name he is exercising a power that Parliament itself cannot exercise, because Parliament has already decided that no money shall be spent on a work costing more than £25,000, until it is first inquired into by the Public Works Committee. I may say in passing that many thousands of pounds have been saved by the committee. It has justeffected a saving of between £20,000 and £30,000 on the projected first permanent administrative building at Canberra. No tone knows what that building would have cost if the matter had been left to the decision of the Federal Capital Commission. The Public Works Committee bases its reports on expert evidence gathered from all quarters ; whereas the Chairman of the Federal Capital Commission acts on his own initiative. It is time Parliament looked into the question of the high cost of building in the Federal Capital Territory. Every time it has visited Canberra, the Public Works Committee has drawn attention to this. The trouble is that in order to get an adequate return in the way of interest and sinking fund on the money which has been more or less squandered in the Territory, the commission must charge a heavy rental to those public servants who are compelled to live there. The houses themselves are all right, and there is nothing particularly wrong with the workmanship in them, although they are very plain and ordinary looking, but in the matter of cost they do not compare with similar houses now being built in Adelaide.

Senator Duncan - There is a great deal of difference between labour costs in Adelaide and Canberra.

Senator REID - For the money spent on them there are no better houses in Australia than those now being built in Adelaide at a cost of £700 each. Why should the cost of building be so much higher at Canberra? Why is it that in Adelaide for £700 one can get a much better class of house than one which costs £1400 at Canberra ? There ought to be some check on costs in the Territory. Commonwealth public servants having no choice in the matter must go there to live, and they must become discontented if they are called upon to pay double the rents they are now paying. Parliament must inevitably increase their salaries. With their present salaries they will not be in a position to pay the rents demanded by the Federal Capital Commission for houses much inferior to those they are now occupying in Melbourne.

Senator Duncan - Even members of Parliament will not be able to afford to buy houses at Canberra.

Senator REID - I am speaking, not of members of Parliament, who will he there a few days and nights, but of the public servants who must spend the whole of their time there. I disagree with the scheme proposed by the commission to be applied to those officers who are obliged to rent houses. The brick turned out at Canberra brickworks can hold its own with any other brick in Australia. It will probably stand' the weather for 100 or 200 years, and at the end of that time I have no doubt it will be as good as it is to-day. In these circumstances, making allowance for the wear and tear on the Canberra houses, I think the commission could extend the terms of repayment to a much longer period, and thus considerably reduce the weekly rental charge.

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