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Friday, 6 August 1926

The PRESIDENT - Order ! No point of order has been taken that 13 not allowed by the Standing Orders.

Senator GRANT - I have been speaking for only three minutes, and already one point of order has been taken. I had the impression that I should be allowed to indicate the location of the territory, and to state briefly a few particulars regarding it. I have no intention* of coming into conflict with the Chair. I desire that the Senate shall discuss the sale and transfer of building site leases at Canberra. I presume that I shall be in order - at least I shall take the risk - if I state that the Federal Capital city has been laid out to a certain extent, and building allotments have been pegged out. Presumably I shall, also be in order if I state-

The PRESIDENT - I shall inform the honorable senator when he is out of order.

Senator GRANT - The proposal to conduct a sale of certain building allotments at Canberra on the 24th December, 1924, was advertised very -widely throughout the Commonwealth. A number of people attended the sale, and certain leases were disposed of. I have not the figures showing what the number was. Since that time a second auction has been held ; and in the period that elapsed between the two sales, a considerable number of allotments were disposed of bv the Minister or the commission in accordance with the regulations. So far as I am aware, every action taken has been strictly in accordance with the regulations that have been approved by the Commonwealth Parliament. I understand that another sale is contemplated at a. very early date. I believe that it was almost unanimously resolved by this Parliament that the land at Canberra should not be sold outright, but that only the leases should be sold. I feel quite certain that the idea all along has been that the Commonwealth should receive the full rental value of that land. It was never intended that speculation in land values should , be made possible by any regulation approved of by this Parliament. But Parliament has approved of regulations which have permitted speculation in land there, and has prevented those desirous of building from doing so unless they comply with the terms demanded by the original lessees. When a private corporation decides to dispose of land on a 99 years' lease without re-appraisement, speculation is inevitable, and sometimes the speculator fails to gauge accurately the increased value that will accrue to the land; but at other times he makes a substantial profit in making way for the person who does the actual work or the land. In my opinion, nobody should be allowed to come between the Commission and the actual user of the land. If a person discovers an alluvial gold-field, Le is not allowed to hold a block boyond a limited time - the warden can compel him to make way for the individual who desires to work the claim. The Government has made a faint, but unsuccessful, effort to put a somewhat similar regulation into effect so far as Canberra is concerned, with, I think, disastrous results regarding settlement. At the first sale, held there in December, 1924, the lease of certain blocks was offered at auction to the highest bidder. It waa laid down that within a specified time the purchaser would be obliged to build upon the block and complete building within a certain time; but too long a period was fixed. I have the statement on unimpeachable authority that some of those who purchased leaseholds in December, 1924, have made no use of the land, except to place it in the . hands of a local firm, of auctioneers, with an intimation that they are prepared to sell their interests provided that the prospective purchaser is prepared to pay the premium asked.

Senator Pearce - Residential or business blocks?

Senator GRANT - I refer to business blocks. I am told that in one case as high a premium as £1,500 was demanded.

Senator Hoare - What was the original cost of the lease?

Senator GRANT - The rental value was £60, and the lessee has taken no visible steps to build upon the land.

Senator Cox - The honorable senator knows as well as I do that it is difficult to obtain labour at Canberra at the present time, and it is occasionally necessary to grant extensions of the prescribed period within which building must be commenced.

Senator GRANT - I know nothing of the kind. Plenty of labour i3 available at Canberra. I believe that, after negotiation, a contract was signed by the original lessee to part with the block to which I have referred, on the payment of £1,100.

Senator McLachlan - That man undertook a big liability in addition to paying a rental of £60 a year.

Senator GRANT - He agreed to erect a building to suit the locality. I do not wish to be understood as objecting to the Commission having power to regulate the quality of the buildings. Evidently speculation of the worst type has taken place at Canberra, and no doubt it will continue if building sites are made available under the present regulations. Settlement there should be made as easy and attractive as possible; but under present conditions, progress is retarded.

Senator McLachlan - Have many sales taken place?

Senator GRANT - A considerable numberwere made both at the first and second sales. One finds block after block vacant; but on making inquiries learns that they are all being "nursed" for a rise in value. The purchaser must accept the terms of the original lessee. We are informed that another sale of land is to be held in or near the civic centre, and that therefore the original lessees will be unable to demandthe high pre - miums now sought; but I point out that that will be only a temporary remedy. Although the Minister promised that if speculation took place more blocks would be available immediately, that undertaking hasnot been honoured. People who have not laid one brick, or even dug out for the foundations, are able to obtain, in twenty months, £1,100 for a block which cost them only £60. It was my intention to move for the appointment of a select committeeto inquire into this matter, because I realized that, once a government had made up its mind, it was very difficult to effect an alteration, for some fatuous reason the Government is determined to adhere to its policy of marking the first re-appraisement of Canberra lands after a period of twenty years have expired. It might as well be 99, or even 999 years; it is merely a matter of gauging, the progress of the city. The provision that the lessee of a block shall build on it is practically no protection. I have been told, on unimpeachable authority, that some of the residential sites disposed of at the first sale could now be disposed of at a very substantial profit. I do not think that that was intended when the leasehold system was determined on. I believe that the Senate dues not approve of speculation in land at Canberra. My desire is to make land settlement in the

Federal Capital easy, to ensure that the lessees shall pay the full rental value of the laud and no more, and that the commission shall receive that rental value.

Senator McLachlan - What does the honorable senator suggest as a remedy ?

Senator GRANT - The only way to overcome this difficulty is to alter the period of re-appraisement.

Senator Findley - Move in that direction, and support will be forthcoming.

Senator GRANT - The existing regulation providing for re-appraisement after twenty years should be amended immediately. While I have no hope that the Government will agree to reappraisement every year, or even every two years, it should be agreeableto reduce the period sufficiently to make speculation in Canberra lands impossible. So far as those who got in on the ground floor are. concerned, I wish to make it clear that I do not stand for any repudiation of the contracts entered into. They are legally entitled to fleece their fellow Australians.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon J Newlands - The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

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