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Friday, 6 August 1926

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaVicePresident of the Executive Council) . - In the first place, I wish to inform the Senate that as the time which it was intended to devote to the discussion of the agenda-paper of the Imperial Con:ference has been taken up in dealing with this motion, no further opportunity for that debate will be available. I have but a few observations to make concerning the statements that have been made on five or six occasions concerning the land policy and building conditions at Canberra. In the first place Senator Grant said that certain lessees of land at Canberra were willing to sell their leases. Is there anything strange in that? Is it not reasonable for a lessee to dispose of his lease if he can do so at a profit? How can that be prevented ?

Senator Grant - By re-appraisement at shorter periods.

Senator PEARCE - As I did not interrupt the honorable senator when he was speaking he should extend the same consideration to me. Queensland pastoralleases, which are under the control of the Labour Government, are being sold to-day at tremendous profits.

Senator Grant - I rise to order. I submit that in discussing a motion relating to building sites at Canberra, the Minister (Senator Pearce) is not in order in referring to pastoral leases in Queensland.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon J Newlands - The Minister is quite in order in referring to Queensland leases by way of illustration.

Senator Grant - I was not allowed to refer by way of illustration to such matters

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator was allowed the privileges to which he is entitled under the Standing Orders. The Minister will not be allowed more than that.

Senator PEARCE - There is only one point upon which Senator Grant and Senator Elliott are in agreement. They want a free selection of business sites. They suggest that the whole of the land at Canberra should be thrown on the market at once, and that the public should be allowed to make their selection at the upset prices. What would happen if that were done ? Such a policy would play right into the hands of the land speculators.

Senator Grant - Why?

Senator PEARCE - Every business site available would be purchased by land speculators to-morrow if the opportunity offered. It would be playing right into the hands of speculators. All the abuses which Senator Elliott and Senator Grant are alleging against the existing system would then apply over the whole area, and the result would be that the increased values given to land by reason of the expenditure of public moneys there would benefit private speculators instead of the commission.

Senator Ogden - But those who acquire the leases have to build within a certain time.

Senator PEARCE - We have at Manly, near Sydney, a striking illustration of the results which would follow the adoption of such a system as Senator Elliott suggests. In one of the best streets in Manly, where the land was. all thrown open, there is a block thathas remained vacant for many years. A few years ago it was worth. £5 or £6 a foot, but to-day, I am informed, it is worth £35 a foot. That block is heldby a private speculator. Who is this private speculator ? I am informed that it is Senator Grant. If the system which he suggests were in operation in Canberra, land would remain unoccupied for many years, but under the present policy all the land thatis leased must be built on within a specified time.

Senator Grant - I rise to order. I should like to know, Mr. President, if the Minister is in order in quoting land values at Manly?

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon J Newlands - I have already given a ruling on a similar point.

Senator PEARCE - I come now to the point upon which Senator Elliott and Senator Grant are wholly at variance, and that is in regard to annualreappraisements. In connexion with the business areas, the point at issue between Senator Elliott and the commission is simply this : The commission say, " We wish to build this city in a proper way. We want to secure the unearned increment for the taxpayer, and, therefore, we are not going to throw open to the public the whole of the business or civic centre of this city. We are going to make available to the public, as the demand arises, such of these blocks as will enable us to establish the business or civic centre in an orderly way, instead of having a few shops built at one point, and others perhaps half a -mile away. " By feeding the market according to the demand, the commission will secure the unearned increment resulting from its own activities. In these circumstances, the unearned increment resulting from the expenditure of public moneys at Canberra will go, not to private speculators, but to the taxpayers. The reply to Senator Elliott, or any one else who says that he is unable at present to select a business site, is that quite recently a number of leasehold sites were offered for sale after being duly advertised, and that he then had an opportunity of bidding, in competition with others, but he did not think fit to do so. He has been informed by the commission that more leasehold business sites will shortly be placed on the market, when he, in common with others, will have a further opportunity to bid. That is perfectly fair. Any other system, I repeat, would be to the advantage of the speculator. Every one believes that before long Canberra will have a population of 15,000 or 20,000, and if the whole of the civic centre were thrown open now, it would at once be bought up by speculators.

Senator Ogden - But the leases have to be improved.

Senator PEARCE - Lessees are allowed a certain period within which to build. Meantime the city would be growing, and, even if the speculator got an advance of only 10 per cent, on the money invested, he would do very well. That is not the policy of the Government or of the commission. At each of these land sales, as. Senator Elliott admits, the bidding showed that the" commission had rightly judged the demand for land. Whilst it is a fact that large sums were paid for choice sites, some of them:, including blocks, in the business centre, were not sold, which showed that the * commission had rightly gauged the position.

Senator Elliott - If the blocks were not all sold, how is it there are now none for sale?

Senator PEARCE - Because they have since been sold. In answer to a question recently asked by Senator Elliott, I replied, on behalf of the Minister for Home and Territories, that another sale would shortly take place. Senator Elliott further complained that £4,000 an acre had been paid for land at Canberra.

Senator Elliott - That was the upset price.

Senator PEARCE - Keen business men, who know the value of the land, and are the best judges of their own business requirements, paid that amount. Who gets the benefit of these high prices ? Not the speculator, but the Commonwealth taxpayer. There is a good deal of land available at Canberra, but the competition for its purchase is regulated. Those who understand their business know what they should pay for these sites. Senator Elliott said that in one particular residential area there was only one block available. As settlement increases, other sites will be thrown open. To throw the whole area open, and allow the people to settle promiscuously in a large city would result in a heterogeneous collection of buildings, without order or method. This, in turn, would lead to unnecessary expenditure in providing roads and footpaths, as well as other conveniences, in sparsely settled areas, whereas under the system adopted by the commission we expect orderly progress. I do not propose to prolong the debate except to say that the policy adopted by the commission has been justified. I can assure the Senate that the commission will not unduly raise land values with the idea of making a profit, but will make land available in an orderly way to provide for any genuine and substantial demand. The commission will not heed the whim of any persons who may make inquiries concerning business or residential sites, but will proceed with the development of the Capital City area in pursuance of a definite and settled plan.

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