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Thursday, 12 August 1926

Senator ELLIOTT - But it is a good distance away. A day or two ago, I submitted some preliminary estimates from the reputable firm of architects which was successful in the competition for the design of public servants' cottages at

Canberra. It was, nevertheless, suggested that my statements were wild and reckless, and, in refutation of them, it was said that tenders had been received for the erection of business premises in the civic centre, one to cost £2,161, and two adjoining shops £3,297, or about £1,650 each. I have had considerable experience in connexion with building costs in this city, and can say that it would be impossible to erect in Melbourne on a 20-ft. frontage, two-story shops at the price mentioned. I immediately made further inquiry from the same firm of architects, which is the only firm actively engaged in supervising building construction at Canberra. It transpires that those figures are absolutely false. The tenders were for the erection of buildings, the bricks being provided by the owner. That is a horse of quite another colour.

Senator Duncan - Apparently the Minister was deliberately misled.

Senator ELLIOTT - The architect's estimate is that, in respect to the first building; an additional £120 will have to be paid for the bricks delivered on the ground, and in respect to1 the second there will be an addition of £300. Further, these tenders are for only the bare walls. In order that the Minister may be quite sure that I am not making wild and reckless statements, I shall give him the names. The first was to be erected for Woodyers and Calthorpe, auctioneers, and the second for the architects themselves and a Major Prisk, they having entered into a joint contract so as to cheapen the cost. I immediately asked the architects to explain the discrepancy between their estimate to me and that which they had obtained for their own offices. They said, " The conditions under which leases are granted are exceedingly vague. It would be quite open to the commission to demand that the whole depth of the block should be covered with buildings. Most of the building leases in Melbourne contemplate a building on the full depth of the ground. We submitted an estimate based on the maximum demand that the commission could make, but in our own case it was ' a try-on ' to see whether we could build on the smallest possible space." They therefore prepared a plan, showing what is called a Florentine facade -with Roman tiles on the front, the building going back to a depth of 30 feet only. Where they are going to put the stairs leading to the second floor, 1 do not know. Possibly they were not shown on the plan which was submitted. I cannot say whether the criticism in this House and elsewhere brought the position forcibly home to the commission; but I suggest that it had some effect in that direction, and -made it realize the utter impossibility of expecting people to erect buildings over the whole depth. It is manifestly unfair for the commissioners to suppress material facts of that kind in their communications to the Minister, and' I make an emphatic protest against it. Apparently the position now is that, so long as you have a magnificent facade, you can put anything you like behind it. Senator Duncan aptly describes it when he says that if that system is to be adopted, the civic centre of the capital will present the appearance of a man wearing a bell-topper and having the seat out of his trousers. The mention of Marseilles tiles seems to have thrown the Chief Commissioner into a state of profuse perspiration; yet he allowed an enterprising builder to get past him. Honorable senators may have heard of villas that are Queen Anne in front and Mary Ann behind. These buildings will apparently surpass those in violent contrasts as between front and rear views. I appeal to the Minister to obtain a grip of his department as he did of his troops on the field of battle, and, as a member of the Cabinet, to live up to the reputation that he made as a soldier over there. This is not a mere slip on the part of the Chairman of the Commission; it has become a habit with him. Recently the Public Works Committee investigated the construction of Canberra cottages. lt has presented a report, on page 7 of which appears the following statement: -

The chairman, Federal Capital Commission, in giving evidence, stated that the cost of buildings at Canberra offered to public servants -was not unduly high. He intimated that, in an endeavour to obtain information as to the relative building costs in Melbourne as compared with Canberra, tenders were called in Melbourne for type 0 of the Canberra houses, which the commission is having erected for £1,300. It was stated that the lowest tender received in Melbourne for that house, upon exactly the same specifications and plans, was £1,525 10s.

Honorable senators were more or less astounded by that announcement. The committee made further investigations, with the following result: -

Investigations made by the committee, however, showed that tenders were not publicly invited, but that four contractors, who had the plans for one night only, were asked to give a price for a single house of that type, having first been informed that no business would result. Under these circumstances, the committee considers that the prices given cannot in any way be taken as a fair test, in view of Mr. Butters' subsequent statement that building material at Canberra costs approximately 20 per cent, more than in Melbourne, and building-trades labour costs approximately 12 per cent. more.

I have an extract from the evidence, which throws further light on the matter. In his examination-in-chief, Mr. Butters paid -

The tenderers were not to be told why the tenders were being called, but they were to be paid a fee to cover their expenses. The tenderers quite expected that business would result. That was the only genuine test which . we could think of.

But Mr. Parkes, of Oakley and Parkes, who submitted the plan and specifications, * had a different story to tell. He said, " I told them that the job would not be going on." It seems to me that the commission and its officers have failed to profit by the advice which Lord Melbourne gave to his Cabinet many years ago - " Gentlemen, if wo have to lie, let us all lie the same way."

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The honorable senator has exhausted his time.'

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