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Thursday, 8 July 1926

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon J Newlands - In discussing the details of the houses at Canberra, I think the honorable senator is going beyond the scope of the bill.

Senator REID - I do not think I am.

The PRESIDENT - I think that the honorable senator is doing so, and what I think must go in this chamber.

Senator REID - That may be; but I think I can show that I am not going beyond the scope of the bill. The measure proposes to give the chairman greater powers, and authorizes the commission to spend public money and flout the wishes of this Parliament that finds the money.- As a representative of the taxpayers, I think I am entitled to show how costs can be reduced, and how the people who have to pay the rents at Canberra, including members of Parliament, can be treated in a much better way.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator will be in order if he can show me how that is dealt with by the bill.

Senator REID - Clause 8 provides for the construction of buildings for use of residents in the Territory.

Senator Needham - That is a power which is not in the principal act.

Senator REID - No; it is additional power given by this bill. Therefore, I think I am keeping within the scope of the bill when I am dealing with the commission's proposals for the construction of buildings for the use of residents in the Territory. My chief purpose is to try to avoid trouble. Outside Melbourne very few members of Parliament are influenced by the votes of Commonwealth public servants but many members will object strongly to the expense they will be likely to meet when they get to Canberra. For instance, it costs a member of Parliament 25s. a day to stay at one of the hostels. If the charge for accommodation at these hostels is to be such that the lower-paid officers of the Public Service cannot pay it, the annual loss on running them will be considerable.

Senator Thompson - That is a good reason for increased remuneration.

Senator REID - Yes; members of Parliament will ask for £1,500 a year. From my knowledge of the houses at Canberra as compared with the type of house the public servants will be obliged to leave in Melbourne, I can say that they will not be fairly treated. I would make the period of repayment three times longer that is proposed by the commission. The houses are government property, and the money will be coming in all the time. In my opinion Canberra will pay for every shilling spent on it. It is unfair to average the price of land on the sales of leases at public auction. It may suit some business people to pay large sums for particular business sites, and it may suit some private persons to pay large sums for specially attractive building sites; but the prices thus paid should not be the guide to the prices charged to the public servants for the sites of the houses they will occupy, particularly when the period of repayment is so short. That period should at least be doubled, and the rents should be half what they are at the present time. We should not require the public debt to be extinguished by means of sinking fund payments until the 100 years have elapsed. Therefore, I say that the matter should be reconsidered. It will have to be done; otherwise with the high cost of building and living, there will be great trouble at Canberra because of a discontented Public Service.

Senator Duncan - It is a poor advertisement for government enterprise if the houses cannot be built cheaper than the cost mentioned by the honorable senator.

Senator REID - I am not speaking* about government enterprise ; I am merely pointing out what will face the public servants, as well as members of Parliament, at Canberra. I do not know why building should be so costly there. Of course, there has been a good deal of the go-slow business among the workmen, but I have no desire to bring in a controversial subject like, that at the present time, except to say that like a boomerang it will hit back at the very people who went slow on the job. There has been too much casualness about the expenditure at Canberra. I have protested against it, because I always knew that it would ultimately injure our public officers.

Senator McLachlan - A government brewery might pay at Canberra.

Senator REID - The commission is positive that hostels will never pay without licences. As a prohibitionist and strict teetotaller I have nothing to lose whether Canberra is wet or dry, but those who are not teetotallers will find conditions there a little hard. If the hostels are not permitted to sell liquors Parliament will have to make good their losses. The whole question will have to be reconsidered. If the Public Works Committee had been instructed to inquire into and report upon the erection of dwelling houses in Canberra, it could have made a comparison of prices for houses built under the different housing schemes in the various States, and made a recommendation to Parliament concerning costs at Canberra. Unfortunately, houses being built there are costing practically twice as much as similar houses in South Australia, and very much more than homes in Victoria.

Senator McLachlan - The system of mass production obtains in Adelaide.

Senator REID - I am aware of that, and my point is that there should be mass production in Canberra. Two years ago the Public Works Committee impressed on the commission . the advisability of investigating the system adopted in Adelaide.

Senator Duncan - Contracts for 500 cottages have been let in Canberra . That, surely, is mass production.

Senator REID - Yos; but the commission contends that the contract for each house stands by itself, and that, therefore, it was not necessary to refer the contracts to the Public Works Committee. This point, I understand, has been referred to the Crown Law authorities.

Senator McLachlan - Are the cottages at Canberra being erected under the group system ?

Senator REID - Considerable numbers are being built in the same locality. They are being erected in all suburban areas. I have no objection to offer to- the work being done by the commission, but I think that there should be some check upon its expenditure. I am afraid that Senator Findley^ motion will not help us very much, because, unfortunately, tho damage has been done.

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