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Friday, 6 August 1926

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - It requires a certain amount of courage to commence a speech at this hour on a Friday afternoon, but I am anxious to make a few observations on the budget, and I hope honorable senators, will bear with me. A good deal has been said, both in the Senate and also in the press, concerning the duty that honorable senators owe to the States. I hold a brief for the States and their rights, just as other honorable senators do, but I think a mistake is being made by confusing our loyalty to the Governments of the States with loyalty to the people of the States. I venture to suggest that the budget, as submitted by the Treasurer, is calculated, to benefit the people of the States individually. It may not be viewed with very much enthusiasm by the Governments of theStates, but, on the whole, I think it will be for the benefit of them all. At any rate, I feel that I should support it, subject to certain recommendations which I intend to make as I proceed.

I have recently visited Canberra, which is looming largely in the public eye at present, and as the result of my visit have completely changed the opinion which I had erroneously formed concerning the Federal Capital. I found that the foundations were being well and truly laid for a great capital city of the future - a city worthy of the place which I hope Australia will one day take in the comity of nations. The Parliament House itself, although it is only a provisional building, is a fine structure.

Senator Ogden - It will be used for many years.

Senator THOMPSON - Yes, it will last for centuries; and, so far as I can see, it will prove extremely comfortable and convenient for the work which has to be performed within it.

Senator Ogden - It should be, in that climate.

Senator THOMPSON - Yes. I shall oppose, with all the power at my command, the holding of winter sessions at Canberra, because- during the two days that I was there it was exceedingly cold. I pay a tribute to the immortal eloquence with which Senator Cox recently described the spectacle, of Victorian senators shivering in the cold at Yass in the early hours of a winter's morning, while waiting for motors to convey them to Canberra,, and which, he said, would be some retribution for their action in sometimes causing representatives from other States to miss 'their trains on Friday afternoons.. I had the experience of shivering in the; cold' on the Yass railway platform at 5 o'clock in the morning while waiting for a motor car to convey me to Canberra, and by the time I arrived at the Hotel Canberra I did not know whether I still, possessed- my hands or my feet. 1,. therefore, urge honorable senators to join with me in opposing winter sessions at Canberra. I gather from press statements-, that after the Federal Parliament has been opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of York, in May next, we are to meet in July. Let us oppose that proposal.

Senator Pearce - Who said that we were to meet in July at Canberra ?

Senator THOMPSON - I read a statement to that effect in the newspapers, which, I suppose, was inspired ; but I am glad to hear the right honorable senator suggest that such is not the case.

Senator Pearce - It is not correct.

Senator THOMPSON - I am glad of that. Possibly I was able while at Canberra to render some service to honorable senators. While, we were visiting Parliament House we had the foresight to test the electric bells which summon honorable senators to divisions, and found that they gave forth what I can only liken to the most strident screeches. Honorable senators with weak hearts, or who bad experienced a' bad night, would, I am sure, feel for some time the effect of their discordant, ringing. Representations were made by us to the authorities, with the result that bells of more musical tones are to be installed.

We were also impressed with the modern methods that are being adopted in street construction, on which ploughs were doing good work, and saving time and labour. An inspection of the joinery works showed that the most modern appliances were being used. In. this connexion I wish to compliment those who were in charge at Canberra years ago on their perspicacity in purchasing and stacking at that time large supplies of timber, which is now well seasoned, and was obtained at prices much below those ruling to-day.

Senator Pearce - And all Australian timber, too.

Senator THOMPSON - Yes. Tasmanian blackwood is extensively used throughout Parliament House, and in the refreshment and dining rooms the still more beautiful Queensland woods are much in evidence. We also paid a visit to the cottages that are being erected for public servants and others. There has been a good deal of complaint concerning the architecture of these homes, but I must say that a good deal of attention has been given to detail, and every endeavour has been made to simplify and reduce the work of housewives. Laboursaving fitments and conveniences are in evidence everywhere. I may mention, however, that probably the greatest bugbear of all is the cost of these houses. Opinions differ very much in this respect. I obtained one authoritative opinion to the effect that building at Can- . berra costs only 10 per cent, more than in Sydney. That is quite likely; but, on the other hand, I was told that the costs in Canberra run from 25 per cent, to 30 per cent, higher than in Melbourne. If that is so, that is where the shoe pinches in the case of public servants who will have to leave their homes in Melbourne and acquire new homes in the Federal Capital. The main consideration is not the difference in building costs between Sydney and Canberra, which, if it is only 10 per cent., is not unreasonable, but the difference between building costs at Canberra and Melbourne.

Senator Grant - Is the estimate of 25 per cent, extra correct?

Senator THOMPSON - I believe it is ; but the honorable senator will have an opportunity of checking it.

Senator Grant - I do not think it is.

Senator THOMPSON - The Public Works Committee is conducting an investigation into building costs, and will probably thresh out the whole matter. These houses are not being built for today or to-morrow, but for many years, and, therefore, as is only right and proper, are being constructed on a substantial basis. But the economic position which arises is a serious one for public servants. The commission, which consists of business men, has to charge rents which are based on the capital cost of the houses, and these rents have to be paid by public servants. In many cases they are more than they can afford to pay. Seeing that Canberra is being built, not for to-day, but for all time, exacting building conditions have to be observed. Having regard to this, with the fact that the cost of living is higher there than elsewhere, it may be said that we are creating what may be described as " Canberra conditions," and the only way out of an awkward position is to make an allowance to public servants transferred there. Government servants working in tropical parts of Australia receive a tropical allowance, and in order to do justice to the public servants a careful inquiry should bo made to see if what may be termed a " Canberra allowance " should not be paid in order to place in a more satisfactory position public servants who are transferred to the Federal Capital.

Senator Grant - Does the honorable senator suggest that that consideration should be extended to honorable senators.

Senator THOMPSON - No. They will not be living there. Senator Grant, for instance, will continue to reside in his palatial residence at Manly and, therefore, will not be entitled to such consideration.

We also visited the brickmaking works, where bricks which compare more than favorably with those manufactured in any other part of Australia are being made. We inspected, with a great deal of pleasure and interest, the afforestation efforts, which are well in hand. The plantations seem to be doing remarkably well, although the climate is not too salubrious, and there will be, I think, plenty of scope, if the foundation is well and truly laid, for an extensive afforestation scheme. We also visited Mount Stromlo, from which one obtains a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. I think it was Senator Guthrie who ong said that the land was so poor that it would not feed a rabbit. I differ from him as to the nature of the country. We then went to the source of the water supply, which caused me considerable surprise: At the weir a magnificent stream of water was falling over a 50-ft. wall in the form of a cataract, and it will always be worthy of a visit by tourists. I am told that the water supplied to Canberra is 96.8 per cent, pure, and that 90 per cent, of it comes from the snows of the adjacent mountains. What gratified me more than anything else was the fact that this magnificent scheme is calculated to supply the requirements of 250,000 people.

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