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Wednesday, 21 July 1926

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator is not in order in discussing the values of land in other cities of the Commonwealth, to which this bill does not apply.

Senator GRANT - If you, sir, rule that I cannot refer to land values in Sydney, I shall quickly take the necessary steps . to dissent from your ruling.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator may not threaten the Chair. I point out to him that he is departing from the bill, and I ask him to return to it. I offer no objection to his making a passing reference to the matter of land values. He was proceeding to discuss them at length, and that I cannot permit.

Senator GRANT - I am glad that I am permitted to make a passing reference, and by way of illustration, to show the practice that exists in other cities. It is rather difficult to keep on repeating a statement regarding Canberra unless one can give illustrations.

The PRESIDENT - I shall take care that the honorable senator does not repeat a statement too often.

Senator GRANT - In the city of Sydney the land is valued every year, and the taxation is fixed in accordance with that valuation. Unfortunately, however, the rental, value does not go into the coffers of the city, as it does at Canberra; it goes to private owners, because the title is freehold. Does Senator Elliott not know that in all the cities of the Commonwealth the root of every trouble is the enormous . prices that have to be paid for home sites? South Australian senators who are acquainted with the history of Adelaide know that some magnificent blocks in King William-street were sold for practically nothing, and today they are worth the best part of £250,000. If the city of Adelaide collected the rent of the whole of the land in its area it would receive more revenue than it would know what to do with. The other day Mr. Butters, or some one else in authority, made the statement that in the very near future Canberra would be one of the best assets that the Commonwealth possesses. It must be remembered that the commission is the landlord, and collects the rent. Unfortunately, it has so far been hamstrung by the Government, which deliberately fixed the period of re-appraisement at twenty years. For what reason was that action taken?

Senator Reid - To encourage building, and to induce people to go there.

Senator GRANT - The honorable senator knows better than that. He surely has not forgotten what he learned in his younger days, although he has no doubt become contaminated by his association with the Minister (Senator Pearce). The periods of re-appraisement were deliberately fixed at twenty years and ten years spectively so that as far as possible settlement at Canberra would be prevented. If the Government had been at all anxious to increase settlement, one of its first actions many years ago would have been to make blocks available for settlement, and to fix the period of re-appraisement at three years, or even twelve months.

Senator H Hays - Why should reappraisement at more frequent intervals encourage building ?

Senator GRANT - However clever the members of the building trades at Canberra may be - and I understand that they are experts in many directions - they have not yet acquired the ability to construct a house unless a site for it is first provided. If sites are cheap in price they become plentiful. The object of the Government is to keep the prices enormously high, and make them scarce, and so far it has succeeded in doing so. The most certain way to prevent progress is to insist that a man shall build a house costing £2,100. Where on earth will the average public servant get £2,100 to enable him to build a home at Canberra? Only in a very limited number of cases is it possible in Melbourne. When a man secures the lease of a block in Canberra he ought to be permitted to build whatever house suits him, so long as it is not an undesirable type. If he is compelled to spend £2,100 he will be saddled with heavy payments, and will have a millstone round his neck during the whole of his life. That is not the way to ensure the progress of Canberra. Similar conditions do not obtain in Melbourne or its suburbs. It is, of course, desirable to have certain regulations; but the fewer they are at Canberra the better. The obsolete, mischievous, ' disastrous proposal that we should have terraces of houses for the ordinary workers should receive the condemnation of every person. Imagine the impudence of an honorable senator suggesting that the ordinary working man, who does the real work of the country, should be obliged to live in a terrace in a country like Australia, which has an area of 3,000,000 square- miles! The minimum measurement of a home site should be not less than 100 feet by 150 feet. Many workmen are to-day living in Queanbeyan instead of Canberra.

Senator McLachlan - It is a more attractive place in which to live.

Senator GRANT - There are no hotels in Canberra.

Senator Graham - That is why it is a failure.

Senator GRANT - It will be a dry area. That is the right policy to follow. It has been argued that the idea of having a garden city at Canberra should be scrapped. That is the very idea that ought to be encouraged. Microscopic allotments are a disgrace to every municipality in the Commonwealth, and are the cause of a good deal of disease. If we want healthy people we must provide them with healthy surroundings. I agree with Senator Elliott that the conditions which have been foisted upon the commissioners make their task a very difficult one. I am hopeful that the discussions which have taken place here, and those which will take place in Canberra, when we get there next year, will show the unwisdom of having pocket-handkerchief allotments with narrow frontages and shallow depths. Senator Elliott has the brilliant idea that a poll tax should be levied on those who travel between Queanbeyan and Canberra, something on the lines of that which Tasmanians levy on mainland residents who go to Launceston or Burnie. I am sure that that will not meet with any one's approval. It is an idea that ought to be buried with the petrol tax, about which we are hearing so much. I do not wonder that some single men live in tents upon blocks 10 feet by 12 feet in Queanbeyan. If they choose to live in that fashion it is their business, not ours. Everybody with whom I am acquainted is desirous of getting the best house he can, in the most favorable surroundings. I do not know any one who would live in a slum area if he could obtain a home in the most favoured residential situation. But the conditions laid down by the commission under the direction and with the concurrence of the Minister of the day, are such as to effectively block progress at Canberra. I have no hesitation in saying that it has been the intention of the Government all along to block progress there, and it has succeeded admirably in doing so. The only remedy for this business is an instalment of the Henry George system of lands values taxation by a frequent revaluation of the blocks, so that the commission, instead of speculators, will annex the whole of the rental value of the land.

Senator Chapman - Would the honor able senator compensate those people who have already purchased leases?

Senator GRANT - I should not disturb those people who have already got in on the ground floor, and secured allotments at Canberra for 20 years at a nominal rent, but I should make all blocks sold in future subject to re-appraisement every three years in order to make quite sure that the Commonwealth would completely eliminate all speculation in land, and, through the commission, collect the full rental value of the blocks. When a lands value tax is imposed, you are really taking from the public and giving to the public something which the public itself has created, you are not taking from any man something which he has himself created, you are simply taking for communal use a value which the community has given to land. On more than one occasion I have challenged regulations and ordinances framed under the Seat of Government Administration Act, and in particular that regulation which gives speculators 20 years in which to fleece newcomers at Canberra. I hope' this discussion will have the effect of compelling the Ministry to amend the regulations in such a way as to provide that all future leases will be subject to re-appraisement every three years, or which would be much better, every twelve months. If that were done, the conditions at Canberra, so ably described by Senator Elliott, would be a thing of the past.

I think the Commonwealth is paying about £7,000,000 a year to returned soldiers, and the widows and dependants of soldiers. It is no doubt a very substantial sum, but it is not too much for the valuable services rendered by our soldiers during the war. Some returned soldiers or their dependents may be drawing a little more money than they are legally entitled to receive - I do not know of any - but on the other hand there is a considerable number of people who are receiving less than they ought to get. A case came under my notice the other day that is typical of many others. A widow whose son was killed in the early stages of the war was advised to make application for a pension for a widowed mother, whose son was a private, which she understood he was at the time of his death. But he was actually a corporal, as she learned only a few days ago, when some eight years after his death, she was advised by the department that there was more money due to her, and she was paid in a lump sum the difference between the amount she was drawing, as a widowed mother of a private, and the amount she should have drawn as the widowed mother of a corporal. It is quite likely that there are many other women who are entitled to receive fairly substantial payments from the Department of Repatriation for a similar reason, and I think the Minister, in fairness to them, should issue a circular drawing the attention of widowed mothers to the fact that a higher pension is payable to those whose sons were of higher rank than that of private.

It was my intention to refer at considerable length to the Grafton to South Brisbane railway, but I shall avail myself of the opportunity to do so when the bill dealing with that railway comes before us for consideration. In the meantime, I give the Government notice that I shall ask whether it is intended to build tunnels for a single or a double line of rails.

I should like to know how many more payments are due for the redemption of loans raised by the Government of South Australia on account of the Port Augusta to Oodnadatta railway. I regret there is not much time at our disposal to deal with all the items in the schedule to this bill. I am of opinion that we frequently vote large sums of money to be expended by the Government without devoting to them the care and attention they should be given.

There is in the bill an item of £50,000 for a subscription to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Under that item we could have a full discussion on the petrol tax, but as we shall have another bill before us dealing with that matter I shall not attempt to get into conflict with the Chair by discussing it now.

Out of the thousands of pounds we are providing for expenditure by the Administrator in New Guinea, I am told that he has spent about £2,000 in effecting improvements to the old H.S.A.G. store at Rabaul, which in the opinion of those on the spot are absolutely unjustified, and that although there is at Kaevieng an excellent messroom, £1,500 has been spent in building a new messroom. If that is the way in which money provided for administrative purposes at Rabaul is spent, it is time the matter was referred to the Public Accounts Committee for a report. I am assured by those who are on the spot that this expenditure is quite unjustified. It is also stated that many of the old and experienced overseers on the stations have been displaced by men with little or no experience in handling plantations. I should like to know if the Minister has any information as to the accuracy of that statement.

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