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Wednesday, 21 July 1926

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) .- Having recently returned from a visit, to the Federal Capital I agree with much that Senator Ogden has said regarding the high cost of buildings there. Probably the commission is not entirely to blame in this matter. The rates charged for the carriage of goods by the New South Wales railways are excessive. I was told by a man in Canberra that he paid £70 freight on a consignment of coal from Newcastle which cost him £60. It would be well for the Public Works Committee to inquire into that phase of the question. Many factors contribute to the excessive cost of building at Canberra. While the high wages paid to workmen tend to increase the cost of buildings, we must recognize in this connexion that men cannot be expected to lea*© their homes in Melbourne or Sydney to work in Canberra unless special inducements are offered to them to do so. Moreover, the fact that the work is being rushed has the effect of increasing the cost. The Federal Capital Commission is, as it were, between the devil and the deep sea. It has received instructions to have everything ready for the opening of Parliament at Canberra on the 9th

May next. In order to do that, workmen must be obtained, and the commission is practically forced to pay them what they demand.

Senator Graham - The difference between the wages paid to workmen in Canberra and in Sydney or Melbourne does not account for there being a difference of £1,000 between the cost of a house in Canberra and a similar house in Melbourne.

Senator ELLIOTT - I do not know that houses of the type of those being built at Canberra have been built in Melbourne for £1,000 less than they cost in Canberra. In the early days of Canberra a number of cottages of four or five rooms were built by day labour at a cost which has not yet been ascertained, but which, it is currently believed there, amounted to £1,400 or £1,500 each. Those houses are now occupied by employees of the commission at rentals ranging from 25s. to 30s a week. They are surrounded by gardens which are maintained by the commission's employees. "Were any municipality to conduct its affairs on the same lines, it would soon become bankrupt. The man who designed the Federal Capital learned his profession in San Francisco, where he was accustomed to seeing the homes of millionaires surrounded by beautiful gardens. Imbued with those ideas, and imagining that the Commonwealth Government was blessed with something in the nature of the purse of Fortunatus, he designed the capital city on similar lines, providing for houses without fences, but surrounded by beautiful gardens. That is where the money is going.

Senator Pearce - If the honorable senator refers to Mr. Griffin, the designer of the Federal Capital city, I can inform him that Mr. Griffin did not design one house.

Senator ELLIOTT - He designed the city, and provided that the houses should be surrounded by beautiful gardens. In the industrial suburbs of Melbourne, the average man on wages builds his house on a block of land with a frontage of 30 or 40 feet; whereas the public servants who will reside in Canberra will have their houses set in the middle of a block with 100 feet frontage.

Senator Foll - Does the honorable senator think that a frontage of 30 feet is sufficient for any man's home?

Senator ELLIOTT - Wider frontages can be given only by pouring out money. If each workman is given a block of half an acre, he, or the Government, must employ a gardener to keep it in order. We should be reasonable in these matters.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator ELLIOTT - As the commission is saddled with an almost impossible task, the Minister should interview its members to see if some practical steps cannot be taken to improve the position. I was courteously received by the Chief Commissioner, Mr. Butters, with whom I frankly discussed the whole problem. He admitted that a person earning £5 or £6 a week could not possibly hope to establish a home at Canberra, but. would have to live in Queanbeyan, as a great many of the workmen are at present doing, and travel to Canberra by the workmen's train. In the industrial suburbs of the larger cities workmen occupy houses, which are usually close to the street, on allotments with a frontage of 50 feet or less; but in Canberra many of the blocks have a frontage of 100 feet and a depth of 150 feet or more. As the houses are some distance from the boundaries, the sewerage connexions cannot be economically made, and in place of the separate weatherboard conveniences usually provided with a cheaper type of home, the sanitary arrangements, which are of substantial construction, are under the same roof, and consequently the cost is greater. In this and other ways the prices of houses are increased until the total cost of a complete dwelling is astonishing. The Chief Commissioner told me frankly that, unless the idea of a garden city is definitely scrapped, only those receiving comparatively large incomes will be able to afford to live in the Federal Capital.. Obviously a person occupying a house on a half-acre block will not have sufficient time to keep the garden in order, and if he employs a gardener he will have to pay him at least 20s. a day.

Senator Foll - Does the honorable senator suggestthat workmen's cottages are being built on one-acreblocks?

Senator ELLIOTT - The allotments in most cases are too large, and as the land is leased they cannot be subdivided.

Senator Duncan - Does the honorable senator suggest terraces of houses?

Senator ELLIOTT - That would be one means of reducing the cost. It is time the Government definitely decided whether Canberra is to be a city in which only those receiving high salaries can live, or whether accommodation is to be provided for persons of ordinary means. Drastic building conditions in the civic centre have to be complied with, as if the city had reached the stage of development which Melbourne had reached, say, 20 years ago. The type of buildings which have to be erected in the civic centre will cost thousands of pounds, and the persons who have to conduct their businesses in them must necessarily charge excessive prices in order to obtain a fair return on their capital. In Queanbeyan, a few miles away from Canberra, people who are living free from any of these restrictions, pick up a wagon load of weatherboards and construct a building of small dimensions, and compete with those attempting to observe the conditions prevailing in the Federal Capital Territory. In the suburban areas where small shops are permitted, flourishing little businesses are springing up. I found that the Commonwealth Bank, which has leased an important site in the civic centre on which it would be required under the building regulations to erect most elaborate banking premises, has also purchased the lease of another block in order to construct a less pretentious building. Thinking that the Government had been smitten by some form of madness, I went to Sydney and interviewed the representative of the Commonwealth Bank in that city, who informed me that to build a bank of the dimensions required in the civic centre would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. He said that the banking chamber had to be 60 feet by 60 feet, and that it would be occupied by only a manager and two clerks, who in winter time would be frozen. The original proposal was therefore dropped, and the Commonwealth Bank in open competition obtained another site. The site on which the permanent Parliament House is to be constructed is an imposing one, but another site has been selected for the erection of a temporary building for pre cisely the same reason. We could not live up to the magnificent conceptions of Mr. Griffin. There is a general sliding away from the general intention, but it has not yet developed sufficiently to enable private investors faced with the problem of constructing monumental buildings to successfully carry on business. Although a certain quantity of bricks has accumulated on some of the sites which have been leased, a single pick has not been put into the ground, albeit that at the end of this year building operations must commence. Possibly, when that time arrives, foundation trenches will be taken out and a few bricks laid, but even if the construction of some buildings is completed, the lessees will be faced with the almost impossible task of obtaining an adequate return to cover the capital cost.

Senator J B Hayes - Has not the commission power to alter the design of the city?

Senator ELLIOTT - That was settled before the commission was appointed, but if the Government were to authorize a change the commission would be glad.

Senator J B Hayes - Has not the commission power under its own act?

Senator ELLIOTT - It cannot at present interfere with the general scheme.

Senator Duncan - The purchasers of the leases were aware of the conditions.

Senator ELLIOTT - Many of them bought blindly.

Senator Duncan - That is their fault.

Senator ELLIOTT - Yes, but if the conditions are enforced, and monumental buildings are erected, the rents will be prohibitive.

Senator Duncan - The leases can be surrendered.

Senator ELLIOTT - In that case the land would remain unoccupied. The prospective purchaser of a business site is informed that all the leases are sold, although there is vacant land on every hand. If further inquiries are made, one is requested to interview a firm of land agents, which is quoting certain blocks at a premium of from £200 to £1,500 for the goodwill of the lease, on which from £15 to £20 has been paid for the first year's rent. If more land were made available, its value could be determined, and a selection made. In the present circumstances a prospective purchaser has to pay whatever is demanded or go without.

Senator Reid - As the area is limited, buyers have to pay the prices asked in open competition.

Senator ELLIOTT - If accommodation, say, in Collins-street, Melbourne, is too expensive, one can obtain it somewhere else, but that is not the case at Canberra.

Senator Reid - The leases were sold in open competition.

Senator ELLIOTT - Not of all the land. A great deal was sold at the upset price. Now the levels have been taken, 4 feet of overburden has in many instances to be removed before building operations can be commenced. This is checking the development of Canberra.

Senator Grant - What does the hon-. orable senator suggest should be done?

Senator ELLIOTT - The first step should be to arrange for the disposal of more land.

Senator Grant - The real remedy is the more frequent appraisement of the rents.

Senator ELLIOTT - That could not be done . The position to-day is difficult enough without re-appraisement of rental values. Another great handicap to the development of the city is the adoption of the leasehold tenure.

Senator Grant - The real handicap is the twenty years' term without reappraisement, and the honorable senator knows it.

Senator ELLIOTT - That is not so. The trouble is with the leasehold tenure. The Commonwealth Bank is the only institution that will finance building operations under that system of tenure, and the bank will only do so on very onerous terms. It advances up to 60 per cent. of the estimated value of a building, but it makes the most minute inquiries into the financial standing of the owner of the lease before it entertains any proposal. I can see no solution of the difficulty unless the Government authorizes a very radical alteration of the plan upon which the city is being built. It is all very well to have this idea of a wonderful garden city. We have to realize that if the city is to be developed on the original plan we shall have to pay for it.

Senator Andrew - Is it not a fact that the holders of the leases have to build on the land within a specified time?

Senator ELLIOTT - Yes; they undertake to commence building within two years, and to complete a building within three years.

Senator Andrew - Those conditions do not make for the shepherding of the leases.

Senator ELLIOTT - They have been responsible for a delay of nearly two years already. The first land sale was held in December, 1924. I presume that if the holders of the leases cut a few trenches and have a few bricks laid before December next, they will be complying with the terms of the contract, although, as I have said, they have not yet shown any serious intention of building. Other people who want to establish businesses there are prepared to go on these blocks and commence building at once, but of course they are shut out. If the freehold had been sold, these men who have been speculating in leaseholds would have been prevented from operating, because they would have been obliged to arrange for the total of the purchase money, whereas most of them can find £20 a year with which to speculate in leaseholds on the chance of making a profit. It is possible that, as time goes on, and as we get nearer the end of the year, some of these people will be prepared to sell their leases for a much lower figure than they are asking at present, because they know that they will have to start building. At present, they are holding up development.

Senator McLachlan - I suppose they are within their rights. I suppose, also, that the commission will see to it that eventually they carry out their obligations.

Senator ELLIOTT - No doubt, but my complaint is that people who are genuinely desirous of building are not permitted to build on any blocks other than those that were made available at the auction sales. For example, they cannot go round the corner and select another block. They must build within a certain specified area. The whole business is open to corruption. There is room for the suspicion that friends of the commission have become entrenched in these areas. I am not suggesting that that has occurred in any way, but there is grave danger of abuses of this sort creeping in unless something is done to make other land available to bona fide applicants. I know of no other city that is being held up in this way. It is obvious, of course, that if wo force people to build in specified areas as at Canberra, and if they are obliged to erect monumental buildings, the people who live there will have to pay more for their goods. In course of time we shall have a demand for the erection of toll gates on the road, from Queanbeyan to keep Queanbeyan business people out of the Federal Capital territory and prevent them from reaping benefits resulting from trade with public servants at Canberra. This is not a matter that can be treated lightly. The position should be thoroughly inquired into by some competent authority. 1 appeal to the Minister for Home and Territories not to allow the business, of developing the Federal Capital to drift in this fashion. I appeal also to honorable senators to visit Canberra so that they may appreciate the difficulties under which the Federal Capital Commission is working. The commission has been severely criticised for having accepted tenders for the erection of 500 houses. The chairman of the commission, Mr. Butters, informed me that he made representations to the former chairman of the Public Works Committee asking if it was desired to have the contracts for cottages referred to the committee. His communication was ignored, but after writing again he received a reply informing him that the committee was not concerned with the building of those cottages. As to the design of the cottages, which are to be sold to public servants at about £2,100, I am of opinion that if the price included the freehold, which I understand is estimated by the commission at £300 for leasehold purposes, he would be about right. I am afraid that residential sites in that locality, being not far distant from the Capital, and on the same alinement as the Prime Minister's residence, will prove too great a burden for the average public servant. It will be necessary for him, if he attempts to keep a block in good order, to employ a gardener and possibly a chauffeur, too, because a garage is provided for each house. The task will be beyond him unless we are prepared to give him a salary of over £1,000 a year.

Senator Pearce - I have seen garages attached to three-roomed houses in St. Kilda.

Senator ELLIOTT - Those houses are occupied by men who use cars for their businesses. It is unreasonable to expect public servants to keep such large residential areas in first class order. Unless they are granted a substantial increase in salary they will be unable to live in those houses and maintain the grounds as they will be required to maintain them.

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