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Thursday, 8 July 1926

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) . -The Federal Capital Commission has not only a big task before it, but also a thankless one. I am satisfied that its members are actuated by the best motives, and that they desire to make suitable provision for those who before long will be permanent residents of the Federal Capital. But the fact remains that the commission has contravened certain provisions of the principal act, notwithstanding that the Minister said that it had not.

Senator Pearce - The Minister did not say that. He said that the matter had been referred to the Government's legal advisers for their opinion. He himself expressed no opinion.

Senator FINDLEY - The point should be cleared up. Notwithstanding the provisions of the principal act, or the additional powers to be conferred on the commission by this legislation, the commission could, if it so desired, contravene both.

Senator Pearce - We do not know that.

Senator FINDLEY - In Victoria there is a Railway Standing Committee whose duty it is to report on all proposals for the construction of new railways and tramways the estimated cost of which exceeds £20,000. Although the committee may recommend the construction of a line, Parliament has the right to decide whether it shall, or shall not, be constructed. Some years ago a Victorian Minister, who was as familiar with the provisions of that act as was any member of Parliament, wanted a tramway constructed between St. Kilda and Brighton. To have taken the tramway into Brighton would have exceeded £20,000, and therefore the line was terminated a short distance from Brighton. The Minister knew that it was only a matter of time when the people would urge that the line should be completed. At a subsequent date it was completed into Brighton. If the complete work had been contemplated in the first instance, the Railway Standing Committee would have been called upon to investigate and report on the proposal. The Federal Public Works Committee is authorized to inquire into all constructional proposals the estimated cost of which exceeds £25,000; but it would be an easy matter for the Federal Capital. Commission to carry out an extensive programme, providing for the construction of 200 or 300 houses at a cost far exceeding £25,000, without the matter being first referred to the Public Works Committee. It could decide to undertake the work in sections while calling for tenders for the whole programme; or it could make six separate contracts.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - The Federal Capital Commission has not done that. It has let one contract covering the whole programme.

Senator FINDLEY - The point for us to decide is whether we approve of the commission's action. If it is to be authorized to act in that way, there will be no necessity for the Public Works Committee to inquire into any constructional programme in connexion with the Federal Capital Territory.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - The same argument applies to any public Works Committee.

Senator FINDLEY - Generally, the provisions of the act are observed.

Senator McLachlan - What is the position if the law is violated? That is our present concern.

Senator FINDLEY - We do not anticipate that it will be violated. I expect that the commission is having these houses built because expedition is the order of the day, and delay would be occasioned by reference to the Public Works Committee.

Senator McLachlan - That is the only reason.

Senator FINDLEY - But I hope that it will not be taken later on as a reason for proceeding with all public works at Canberra without reference to the Public Works Committee. I see now why it has been found necessary to validate what has been done in the past. Although, like other honorable senators I was at first surprised when I heard this matter mentioned, I am satisfied with the statement of the Minister that the commission is doing this work because it is necessary to push on at express speed in view of the fact that the date for the assembling of the Federal Parliament at Canberra is fixed for the 9th May next. Possibly if the commission had not moved as speedily as it has it would have been subjected to strong and serious criticism.I have no fault to find with this commission. I believe it is well fitted to do the work allotted to it, that it is actuated by the best of motives, that it will carry on its business in a business-like way, and that it is fully alive to its responsibilities. It is only men who are fully alive to their responsibilities who could undertake the thankless job entrusted to the Federal Capital Commission of building up a city which will be a model for the rest of the world. When I hear honorable senators complain that plans and specifications have to be submitted to the commission I wonder what would happen if that were not the case. Every one familiar with municipal building regulations throughout Australia knows that no building can be erected unless the plans and specifications have received the approval of a municipal authority, and that not even the slightest addition can be made to an existing building without the further appeal of the municipal authority. As this work has been done, and cannot be undone, and as the Minister has assured us that it was extremely necessary, it should be proceeded with as speedily as possible, I am quite content to withdraw my objection to the clause, but, of course, if a division is called for I shall have to vote with my party.

Senator NEEDHAM(Western Australia [5.56]. - My objection to the clause has not been diminished by the reference of Senator Elliott to the practice of municipalities in regard to plans and specifications. 1 think that plans and specifications of buildings at Canberra should be submitted to the commission, because that body should have no less power in that respect than is possessed by any roads board in Australia. But what I am concerned about is whether, by giving these additional powers to the commission, we shall be validating a contract already entered into by the commission.

Senator McLachlan - We shall not validate it from the point of view which the honorable senator has in mind.

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator with all his legal knowledge has not relieved my mind on that point. I am not anxious to have the Commonwealth buildings in the Federal Capital erected by private enterprise, and it is well known that the Labour party is always in favour of departmental construction. It was amusing to hear Senator Pearce declare that the Government and the commission would welcome any member of the

Public Service who is prepared to build his own home at Canberra and relieve the commission and the Government of the task of building for him. We know perfectly well that very few public servants could undertake that responsibility. I have with me a pamphlet issued by the commission for the information of the Public Service, and giving particulars of the types of houses available. The costs set out verify what has been said by Senator Reid and others, and how an officer drawing a low salary can pay. for one of them I do not know. The prices of these cottages complete range from £2,250 to £2,310, and they may be paid for in 20 or 25 years. It will be a heavy burden on our officials to make the necessary weekly payments.. One wonders why the houses are costing so much. There is first-class clay at Canberra which makes the very best brick in Australia.

Senator Elliott - The men at Canberra work 44 hours a week.

Senator NEEDHAM - I believe that the workmen in Adelaide work 44 hours a week, and in Adelaide a better cottage can be built at half the cost of a Canberra cottage. As Senator Thompson has said Canberra is a long way from the coast, but the three principal items in the building of a house are close at hand, namely, clay for making bricks and tiles; vast stacks of seasoned timber and a spot saw-mill. In these circumstances one wonders why these exorbitant prices are charged. I refer Senator Glasgow again to paragraph k of sub-section 1 of section 14 of the principal act which gives the commission power to construct and maintain all works and buildings required for the purpose of the commission. Are the residences referred to in the proposed new paragraph ka required for the purpose of the commission?

Senator Sir William Glasgow - The residences referred to will not be required for the purposes of the commission.

Senator NEEDHAM - Then the proposed new paragraph is an extension of the power given by the principal act.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - That is so.

Senator NEEDHAM - The further we proceed the more I realize the danger of passing the clause, because if Parliament puts its imprimatur on this clause, no matter what the Attorney-General says about the action of the commission in let ting contracts for the building of these cottages without reference to the Public Works Committee, its action in this respect will be validated.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - When the Public Works Committee was considering proposals for the building of hostels for public servants at Canberra it recommended that the commission should build cottages.

Senator NEEDHAM - That may be so, but I am concerned about the retrospective nature of this provision which gives this additional power to the commission as from the beginning of the principal act. If that retrospective provision were not in the clause I should not have occupied so much of the time of the committee. It is this provision which, in my opinion, will validate the action of the commission in letting the contracts for the 300 cottages. However, I realize that it is useless to discuss the matter further. I trust that the committee will delete the clause.

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