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Wednesday, 21 July 1926

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - I desire to reply to some of the points raised during the debate. In the first place Senator Ogden said that Parliament is almost entirely ignorant of what building construction at Canbrrra iB costing. If honorable senators are unaware of the cost it is their own fault and not that of the commission or of the Government, because practically every building erected at Canberra has been investigated by the Public Works Committee, and its reports and recommendations made available to honorable senators. The -honorable senator further stated that the Federal Capital Commission had lost control of the work, which is an allegation I am sure he would not repeat after further consideration. I was a member of the Government, and the Minister responsible before the commission was appointed. I have been able to compare the work done by the department with that of the commission, and I can say quite frankly that construction under the control of the commission has been more economical because its members are on the spot all the time. The number of bricks laid per man per day has been greater since the commission has been in control. A good deal has been said concerning the cost of the houses, and the statements made have been repeated from time to time without any reliable investigation being made. Honorable senators have been supplied with a valuable little booklet published in April, 1926, by the Federal Capital Commission containing designs of houses and general notes for the information of public servants. I invite honorable senators to closely study the designs, floor and verandah area, and prices of these houses. For instance, there is one shown as " F.C.C. 26 T3." The area of the building is 985 square feet, and that of the verandahs 209 square feet, or a total of 1,194 square feet. The rental of that dwelling is only 30s. a week.

Senator Duncan - How many rooms?

Senator PEARCE - It consists of two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and sleep-out.

Senator Duncan - Yes, it consists of only three rooms and a kitchen.

Senator PEARCE - I could show honorable senators similar buildings, erected on what have been termed pockethandkerchief allotments within the industrial suburbs of Melbourne, for which the occupants are paying more than 30s. a week

Senator Grant - What is the cost of construction 1

Senator PEARCE - I intend to deal with that. There is another type, "W and EDI," which consists of bedroom, sitting room, living room, and kitchen, verandah, bathroom, laundry, the purchase price of which is £900. The area of the building is 711 square feet, and that of the verandah 70 square feet. If a house of that type were constructed in Melbourne, the price would be considerably higher, because the full value of the land would have to be added, whereas at Canberra the purchaser pays only 5 per cent, of the capital value of the land. I also direct the attention of honorable senators to type FCC23 J3, which is more costly. This house has an area of 999 square feet, and a verandah of 174 square feet, or a total of 1,173 square feet. The price is £1,275.

Senator Duncan - How many rooms?

Senator PEARCE - A living room 18 feet by 14 ft. 6 in. - a good room - a bedroom 12 by 12, another 9 by 12, a dining room 11 by 8 ft. 6 in., a kitchen 9 ft. 6 in. by 8 ft. 3 in., as well as a laundry, bathroom, a large verandah, and other conveniences.

Senator Elliott - Four rooms and a kitchen ! Some of the rooms are exceptionally small.

Senator PEARCE - I ask honorable senators to inspect the plans, and to estimate what a similar dwelling would cost in Melbourne.

Senator Guthrie - Has the Minister read the speech, made in another place last week, by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins), the member for the district, who said, in effect, that a house at Canberra cost twice as much to build as it would in Sydney.

Senator PEARCE - No; but I do not care what that gentleman said. I am giving the cost of these houses and comparing them with similar dwellings in Melbourne, concerning the cost of which I have some knowledge. There is also type FCC19 G2, the price of which is £1,225. This dwelling consists of a bedroom 12 by 10, another 12 by 12, a living room 14 by 12, as well as a kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and back and front porch and verandah. It is of a satisfactory design, and the price does not seem at all unreasonable. Another house, costing £1,300, consists of a living room 19 by 14, kitchen 11 ft. 6 in. by 9, bedrooms 14 by 11, 15 by 19, and 10 by 10, a large verandah, laundry, kitchen, bathroom, &c. That is quite a good house for £1,300. FCC.2, another house of about the same size, is available for £1,250.

Senator Guthrie - Is there any guarantee that public servants will be able to get those houses at that figure?

Senator PEARCE - Those are the offers. Now as to the quality of the houses. Perhaps honorable senators are hot aware that an Australian-wide competition was held, and as a result standard types were adopted. Since the very best architects in Australia took part in the competition, there should be

Borne guarantee, at all events, as to the quality of the houses. Those honorable senators who have criticized the work of the Federal Capital Commission, appear to be under the impression that public servants who may be transferred to Canberra \vill be obliged to buy houses from the commission. Nothing of the kind is suggested. If public servants think they can get better value by employing architects to draw their own designs, and by employing their own contractors, they have perfect liberty to do that.

Senator Guthrie - Is it not a fact that bricks cost £3 a thousand more in Canberra than in Melbourne?

Senator PEARCE - I do not know. I was not dealing with that phase of the subject at all. I was exposing the fallacy of the suggestion that public servants transferred to Canberra will be obliged to purchase houses erected by the commission. Let me now outline the procedure and terms in connexion with securing a block of land. In the booklet issued by the Federal Capital Commission it is stated that -

All land will be sold on a 99-years' lease.

Subdivisional plans are available at the office of the Federal Capital Transportation Branch, and an intelligence officer is in attendance to explain the photographs and contour maps.

Public servants desiring a lease of a site will fill in Form A, after seeing the plans, photographs, and contours, and consulting the intelligence officer, giving alternatives, in order of preference, as there may be many applicants for the sameblock.

The annual rental of each block will be 5 per cent. on the unimproved value, as assessed by the commission, with re-appraisement after twenty years, and every ten years thereafter.

There are five alternative methods of securing a home at Canberra -

(a)   The officer to employ his own architect and builder, and provide the necessary finance himself.

(b)   To rent a house from the commission.

(c)   To buy a house from the commission on a rental-purchase basis, the payments being spread over either 20 or 25 years.

(d)   To buy a house from the commission, obtaining finance under the Commonwealth Bank scheme.

(e)   Returned soldiers have the alternative of arranging for a home under the War Service Homes Commission's scheme.

I invite honorable senators not to accept loose statements made by people who have not investigated the position, but to secure a copy of the booklet and read it for themselves. I ask them also to bear in mind that even if a house in Canberra does cost a public servant £2,000, he has £2,000of value. That is to say, if he wished to sell his house the sale price would be regulated by the cost price of houses in Canberra, so that whilst a house in Canberra may cost him more than a house in Melbourne, the owner will have a property that is worth more.

Senator Elliott - But with a diminishing value because of the diminishing currency of the lease.

Senator PEARCE - I can assure honorable senators that the Government is not unfriendly towards the public servants who are to be transferred to Canberra, but, as the guardians of the taxpayers' money, its duty is to see that, whilst the public servants are treated fairly and justly, the taxpayer also gets a fair deal. We are endeavouring to hold the scales evenly between the interests of the public servants and the interests of the taxpayer generally. We have laid it down as a principle that, in certain specific respects, the public servant shall not suffer financially by reason of the decision of the people, through their Parliament, to remove the Seat of Government from Melbourne to Canberra. As a large number of public servants will have to be transferred to Canberra by about May of next year, a considerable number of houses will be for sale in Melbourne. If an attempt is made to unload them at the one time, there will be a slump in values with consequent loss to public servants. To avert this we have drawn up a scheme to prevent public servants from suffering unduly. We have arranged to appoint valuators to value the Melbourne homes of transferred officers, and will give each officer credit in the books of the commission for the value of his Melbourne home for the purchase of another home in Canberra. These, briefly, are the details of the scheme decided upon by the Government. They show, at all events, that some steps have been taken to do justice to public servants whose future home will be in Canberra. Senator Elliott also said that Mr. Butters had acknowledged that building costs in Canberra were 30 per cent. more than in Melbourne. All I can say in reply to that is that Mr. Butters has not made that statement in any official communication to me. The Government, in order to do justice to the public servants concerned, has referred this matter to a committee of the Public Service Board, which will inquire into the exact cost' of buildings in Canberra, and the exact cost of similar buildings in Melbourne. This inquiry is now being held, and when the Government receives the report of the committee it will make an announcement, and say what it proposes to do in the matter. But we are not going to be stampeded into making rash promises. Senator Elliott appears to be under the impression that Mr. Griffin is responsible for the design of the houses. Mr. Griffin's plan of the city was accepted after a world-wide competition of townplanning experts. He had nothing whatever to do with the planning of the houses, but the city area is being developed in accordance with his plan. The contour map now on view in Queen's Hall gives a very good idea of the lay-out of the city. In the course of his remarks, Senator Elliott made what to me was a startling state- ment, namely, that Mr. Butters had said that no artisan could live in Canberra. Certainly Mr. Butters has never made that statement to me, and it is within my own personal knowledge that artisans are living in Canberra in houses rented from the commission.

Senator Elliott - In houses that cost £1,400, and are being rented at 25s. a week.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator said that the residential areas are about1/2 an acre in extent, and that they are too large for the average public servant to keep in order. If he will examine the booklet he will find that the blocks in Ainslie subdivision are 80 feet by 100 feet, or, roughly; less than1/4 acre in extent. The honorable senator referred also to the development of Queanbeyan, and its effect on the Federal Capital. On that point I can only say that if we allowed the Federal Capital to be developed on similar lines we should deserve all the castigation that this Parliament could administer. We have no desire to encourage the erection in the Federal Capital of such " shacks " as are to be seen in Queanbeyan. The honorable senator suggested that it appeared to be the policy of the commission to prevent people from obtaining land upon which to build. That is not so. Apparently the honorable senator has in mind not the residential areas, but the business sites. Anybody can select a residential area, the value of which will then be determined by the commissioners. It must be remembered that the city cannot be developed satisfactorily under a haphazard system. Accordingly a certain area is reserved for business purposes. Naturally the commission will not allow building in the business area except according to the defined plan. The honorable senator mentioned the cost of sewer services. Obviously, if building operations were allowed to spread over a large area, essential services such as sewerage could not be provided at a reasonable cost to the people, nor would it be possible to make footpaths and provide other conveniences.

Senator Elliott - Are not the sewer mains laid already?

Senator PEARCE - Yes ; but the connexions have to be made. That the commission has rightly judged the demand for land is shown by the result of sales by auction of business sites, at values above the upset price fixed by the commission. The honorable senator said something which, I am sure, he will regret, when he reads his Hansard proof. He suggested that, under the present system, friends of the commission were securing an advantage.

Senator Elliott - I do not think I said that. I did not intend to convey any such suggestion.

Senator PEARCE - I am certain that the honorable senator did not mean what he said; but I know that other honorable senators protested at the time he made the statement. Advertisements were inserted in all the leading newspapers of Australia, stating that the land would be sold at public auction to the highest bidder, so there could be no possibility of favoritism. I turn, now, to some criticism offered by Senator Grant. That honorable senator has extolled the value of the municipal rating system, and appeared to be quite unaware that it is in operation in Canberra.

Senator Grant - How often is a revaluation made ?

Senator PEARCE - I do not know.

Senator Grant - Why is not a revaluation made for rental purposes?

Senator PEARCE - That is another question. I tell the honorable senator that the rating system on the yearly assessment is in force at Canberra.

Senator Elliott - By way of personal explanation, I should like to say that I did not mean to suggest that friends of the commission were being favoured by the present system for the disposal of land at Canberra; but I believe that it tempts people to hold land out of use for a rise in value. That is one reason why I urged that more frequent sales should be held.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.


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