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Thursday, 8 July 1926

Senator KINGSMILL (Western Australia) . - The point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) is clear enough. I differ, however, from him in his contention that the commission has acted in excess of its powers in constructing the class of buildings which this amending bill seeks to empower the commission to construct. If honorable senators will refer to the memorandum, which is clear, they will see that, under paragraph h of subclause 1, the commission has power to construct and maintain all works and buildings required for the purpose of the commission. It is now proposed to enable the commission under paragraphka to construct buildings for use as or in connexion with residences in the Territory.

Senator Needham - That is an added power.

Senator KINGSMILL - Yes ; and one which the commission will not possess until this measure becomes law. The commission has constructed, and has let contracts, for the construction of buildings, the wisdom of which is very questionable.

Senator Thompson - Are they not for the purposes of the commission?

Senator KINGSMILL - Certainly not.

Senator Elliott - That is covered by paragraph j of section 14.

Senator KINGSMILL - That paragraph reads - " Subject to the approval of the Minister, the construction of all works and buildings requiredlby the Commonwealth in the Territory." ... I venture to assert that residences are not required by the Commonwealth, but by private persons in the Territory. It is straining paragraph j almost to breaking point to apply it to the construction of residences.

Senator Pearce - As the powers contained in the principal act are not sufficiently wide, we have brought forward an amending provision.

Senator KINGSMILL - Possibly so; and because I do not think it is in the best interests of Canberra, or of the public that the construction of residences by the commission should continue, I am rather inclined to oppose the paragraph which it is proposed to add.

Senator Pearce - The commission is also inviting private persons to build houses.

Senator KINGSMILL - Judging by the buildings already erected at Canberra, I think the commission is inclined to be somewhat autocratic. Its officers have ideas concerning appearance and comfort which do not in any way coincide with those of the general public. Furthermore, the prices of the residences constructed by the commission are extortionate, and apparently" the commission does not consider it possible to make any reduction. The cost of construction in Canberra is, I believe, at least 33 per cent/higher than in any other part of the Commonwealth. I do not know why it should be. As excellent bricks and tiles are produced in the Federal Capital Territory, it should not be necessary to ask such exorbitant prices. If the construction of residences was left to private contractors, the buildings would be more pleasing - we could not get anything more unpleasing than at present - the benefits of competition would be apparent. I understand there is some desire for uniformity; but in the construction of houses at Canberra, uniformity has been carried to such an extreme that it has resulted in monotony. The whitewashing of the beautiful bricks of which the houses are constructed, is nothing short of barbarous. Before a prospective resident can build in the Federal Capital Territory, plans of the proposed structure have to be passed by the commission. I made some inquiries in this connexion, and asked what I had to do if I desired to build a home. I was informed that I had to submit a plan, and if it were acceptable to the commission it would be passed. I then asked who was to decide whether the plan was or was not a good one, and I was told that that was a responsibility of the commission. .Why should the commission arrogate to itself that right?

Senator Sir William Glasgow - There must be some supervision.

Senator KINGSMILL - I admit that; but if what we see at Canberra is the result of supervision, all I can say is that the supervision is very faulty.

Senator Pearce - A person cannot construct a house in any large municipality without first having his plans approved.

Senator KINGSMILL - I am well aware of that; but there seems to be a tendency on the part of the commission to confine construction to houses which are inartistic and altogether unpleasing to the eye. I have carefully examined nearly all of the 25 plans submitted which are regarded by 'the commission as eminently suitable; but I did not find one which embodied my architectural idea of comfort in a home.

Senator Pearce - Can the honorable senator mention one case where a private person has been prevented from building because the plan submitted was not in accord with the commission's ideas?

Senator KINGSMILL - I do not know of any. I am giving only my own impressions. The action of the commission in my own case leads me to believe that its attitude will act as a deterrent. I can quite understand one being discouraged by the type of building being erected, and also by the excessive cost of construction, which, so far as I can gather, no effort has been made to reduce. A building said to be worth £2,000 at Canberra would be valued at about only £1,200 in another part of the Commonwealth. The position is absurd, and unless something is done to reduce the cost, I doubt very much whether the public will incur the risk of building at Canberra in the way we should like them to, in order to make it a great city and the glory of the Commonwealth. I have serious doubts whether the granting of additional powers to the commission to erect all residences will have the effect we desire.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - It does not mean all residences.

Senator KINGSMILL - Perhaps not. The members of the commission have quite enough to do to look after the various buildings to be erected for Commonwealth use without undertaking the construction of residences which are generally admitted to be of most inferior type. If the commission leaves the construction of residences to others without interference, which is altogether unnecessary, and allows prospective residents to build to designs meeting what one might call a catholic taste, it will be performing its duties satisfactorily, and saving itself and the public a great deal of perplexity and trouble. I do not propose to submit an amendment, but I have serious doubts concerning the wisdom or practicability of the amendments proposed by this clause.

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