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Thursday, 29 May 1941

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) . - I bring under the notice of the Senate the position that has arisen with regard to the proposed leasing by the Government of offices in the premises of London Stores Limited at the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth streets, Melbourne.

Senator Foll - I rise to a point of order. Several questions have been addressed to the Treasurer on this matter, and he has promised to supply all the information regarding it. Would the honorable senator be in order in further discussing the matter at this stage ?

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - On the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, a senator may discuss matters not relevant to the motion.

Senator CAMERON - On the 30th April, approximately 80 tenants in the premises of London Stores Limited received notices to quit. They occupied the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth floors of the building, and they were required to quit by the 30th May. It was stated in the notice received by them that their premises were required by the Commonwealth Taxation Department. The circumstances in which this notice to quit has been given are such that great injustice will be done to the tenants. Many of them are conducting small businesses which they have spent years in building up, and, in the event of their being forced to leave the premises, they will in all probability never be able to rehabilitate themselves. Among the businesses concerned are those of a chiropodist, a hairdresser, a dressmaker, a teacher of music, and an office cleaner. If no other suitable premises were available for the Taxation Department, there would be some justification for the action of the Government, which, I recognize, must have space for the accommodation of its departments; but other premises are available in Melbourne, and I suggest that they are more suitable, and are available at cheaper rentals than the offices proposed to be taken. I understand that the Government proposes to pay £12,000 a year as rent to London Stores Limited and to expend £12,500 in bringing about necessary structural alterations to the premises. Among other premises available are those of Advanx Automotive Industries. The following offer, dated the 13th May, 1941, has been forwarded to the Government : - 125 William-street, Melbourne, C.l, Vic., Aust.


I hereby offer a lease to the Commonwealth Government on my building known as Advanx Automotive Industries, No. 175 Queen street, Melbourne.

The building is situate one block from the General Post Office, Elizabeth street, Melbourne, and about fifty yards front Bourke street.

It is a modern, reinforced, concrete structure with five floors and a total floor space of 40,000 to 50,000 square feet. While it is at present used as a filling station, I have, in my possession, plans for its conversion to offices and would be pleased to let you see such plans. I should be glad to discuss details with you immediately to formally offer you a lease as follows: -

(1)   Term, five years front date of possession. The three upper floors can be given immediately and the lower floors within a week or two.

(2)   Rental, £5000 per annum, payable monthly.

(3)   The Government to bear the costs of any initial alterations necessary to adjust the building to its requirements. I will consent to all such alterations so long as they do not affect the actual structure of the building.

(4)   Rates to be paid by the tenant.

(5)   I am prepared to grant an option for a further term if so desired.

(6)   The lease to be prepared bymy solicitors and approved of by the Crown Solicitor.

Yours faithfully, (Signed)R. S. Falkiner.

It is hard to justify the action of the Government in the light of that offer.

One of the most modern buildings in Melbourne, situated at 125 Swanstonstreet, could be leased by the Government. This is Century Building, which is eleven storeys high. It was erected only twelve months ago, is air-conditioned, and has two large passenger lifts, and 42,190 square feet of floor space. Within two days three floors could be made available, providing 12,000 feet of floor space, and from then onwards additional space could be provided, and the whole of the space could be made available by the 15th July next. The rent of these premises would be £14,263 10s. per annum. Ever since its erection, this building has been used for the administrative offices of the Royal Australian Air Force, which has a staff of about 800 persons. In my opinion the building is entirely suitable for the Taxation Department. If it were taken by that department no additional expense need be incurred for alterations.

Senator Foll - Is it stated officially that that building is available?

Senator CAMERON - I was in communication with the secretary of the defence committee, Mr. L. K. Allan, representing the tenants of London Stores Limited, who had arranged to send to me an official intimation regarding Century Building, but, unfortunately, his letter missed the post and I shall not receive it until to-morrow. However, I telephoned to him and he furnished me with the particulars that I have given to the Senate. He states definitely that Century Building is available. At a deputation which waited on the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll), consisting of Senator Keane, representatives of the tenants, the secretary of the defence committee, Mr. L. K. Allan and myself, I understood the Minister to say that those premises would be suitable.

Senator Foll - My information at that time was that they were to be taken by the Department of Munitions immediately they were vacated by the Royal Australian Air Force.

Senator CAMERON - Apparently that is not correct. Mr. Allan has assured me that the solicitors representing the proprietors of Century Building are now prepared to allow the Government to have it for the use of the Taxation Department. I submit that the Government should not cause 80 tenants to have to leave their present premises in the building of London Stores Limited, because, in many cases, they would never be able to recover their businesses, even if other suitable premises could be obtained. In my opinion, Century Building is quite suitable for the purposes of the Taxation Department.

Senator Gibson - What about Craig, Williamson's building?

Senator CAMERON - The Minister has stated that his officers have reported that it is not suitable for the purposes of the Government. One of the many businesses conducted on the premises of

London Stores Limited is that of a chiropodist, where the equipment is worth up to £500, and it would be of no use elsewhere. If the owner of the business desired to take a room in another building the first question put to the owner would be " What business do you follow ? " and, when the owner gave its nature, the answer, no doubt, would be, " We already have one chiropodist in the building, and we cannot let a room to you ", If she could not get a room elsewhere her equipment would be practically useless, and in the meantime she would lose her clients. Practically every tenant would be affected similarly to a greater or lesser degree. What does the Government expect to gain by adopting a policy of this kind? The yearly rental received by London Stores Limited is £8,458, and tho rent proposed to be paid by the Government represents a clear increase over that of from £2,500 to £3,000 a year. The manager of London Stores Limited, in a letter addressed to the tenants, stated, inter alia -

The Commonwealth wants the premises, and we feel that we must do our hit and co-operate with them as much as possible. " Do our bit " apparently means " provide another £2,500 or £3,000 a year for the company ". The letter proceeds -

We feel sure you will agree' that it is everyone's duty to co-operate with the Government in its war effort. The sacrifice we are now asked to make is a small one. but it is quite obvious that if we had refused to do so the premises would have been requisitioned and you and ourselves would probably have been worse off.

The emphasis is put on the word "sacrifice ".

Senator Foll - That is all imagination.

Senator CAMERON - I am glad to hear the Minister's statement, for the suggestion had been made to me that the management was threatened that unless it agreed to lease the premises the Government would take possession of them.

Senator Foll - That is quite untrue. No threat was made at all.

Senator CAMERON - The letter from which I have quoted is signed by the joint managing director. It appears to me that in this connexion the company cannot be said to be " doing its bit," but undoubtedly it is taking action to compel about 80 desirable citizens of Melbourne to make a quite unnecessary sacrifice. Many of these people have relatives abroad serving in our forces, and they are certainly doing their bit to help in the national war effort. Their feelings can therefore be well imagined when they found that the Government was taking action of this description.

The deputation which waited on the Minister was told by him that the matter was one between London Stores Limited and its tenants and not between the Government and the tenants. That, of course, is a pure quibble. If the Government had not taken action to obtain a lease of these premises the tenants would not have been given notice to quit.

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