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Monday, 18 December 1905

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - I suppose that we all recognise that the time has come when an attempt should be made by this House to arrive at a settlement of this very vexed question. In the first place, 1 desire to enter my protest against this Bill being brought forward at the fag-end of the session, when so many honorable members representing distant States have left for. their homes, and will not return. To ask us to proceed with it as if it were a formal matter is to travesty the proceedings of Parliament.

Mr Chanter - The Bill is only brought forward to please New South Wales.

Mr CONROY - If that is the idea underlying its introduction, the sooner the Prime Minister understands that the consideration of the measure should be deferred till next session the better.

Mr Austin Chapman - It is the old policy of " win, tie, or wrangle."

Mr CONROY - The PostmasterGeneral takes no interest in this question.

Mr Austin Chapman - I take more interest in it than does the honorable and learned member.

Mr CONROY - Surely the PostmasterGeneral can appreciate a jocular allusion?

Mr Austin Chapman - But jocular remarks, when they appear in cold type, frequently look awkward, and they are sometimes used against one.

Mr CONROY - At the present stage of the session we ought not to proceed with this Bill. It is perfectly dear that, in the absence of a large number of honorable members, it cannot receive that amount of consideration to which it is entitled. In my opinion, the warmth that has been engendered by some observations which have been made in another quarter will tend to preclude that full and serious discussion which would otherwise be bestowed upon it. I have no hesitation in saying that, when the selection of Dalgety was first proposed, at least half-a-dozen honorable members voted for it, not with a view to securing a final settlement of the question, but to allow of its further consideration.

Mr Austin Chapman - Name one.

Mr CONROY - I do not feel at liberty to do so, otherwise I could certainly name at least half-a-dozen. The Postmaster-General must be aware that a great many honorable members do not approve of the site that has been chosen. Even its warmest admirers cannot urge that it fulfils all the requirements of a Federal Capital Site. If they do, I am quite satisfied that a residence of a few months there will disabuse their minds of that illusion.

Mr Austin Chapman - I can produce a statement by the honorable and learned member that it is a very nice place.

Mr CONROY - I said that it was less objectionable than some of the other sites which were proposed. I am sure that another site would have been chosen if it had not been for the feeling which is entertained by honorable members that: they ought to support the Prime Minister, in any altercation that he mav have with' the Premier of New South Wales. If it were not for that fact, there would be a distinct majority against the selection of Dalgety.

Mr Austin Chapman - Has not the honorable and learned member got a distinct majority now?

Mr CONROY - I believe so.

Mr Austin Chapman - Then why talk? Let us divide.

Mr CONROY - The PostmasterGeneral knows that at the present time, apart from pairs, eighteen votes could not be registered upon either side. There are not thirty members present out of the whole House.

Mr Tudor - There were thirty-five votes recorded in the last division.

Mr CONROY - The honorable member forgets that that was inclusive of pairs.

Mr Austin Chapman - We can secure the same number again.

Mr CONROY - No, because the PostmasterGeneral will not allow pairs to be given.

Mr Tudor - I am paired.

Mr Austin Chapman - I am quite prepared to take a division, and let every honorable member in the House be accounted for.

Mr CONROY - I am sure that the Postmaster-General is not. Considering the number of pairs that have been provided, it is impossible to get eighteen votes cast upon either side. The last division which took place confirms my statement. Upon that occasion we allowed pairs to four or five honorable members. It would be distinctly wrong to allow the House to decide a measure of this importance when less than a quarter of its members are present.

Mr Austin Chapman - I can produce more than eighteen live votes, and account for eighteen dead ones.

Mr CONROY - The PostmasterGeneral cannot do so. I have been through the list very carefully, and the honorable member for Bland fully concurs in my opinion. I mention his name, because it has been stated that he was endeavouring, for purely electioneering purposes, to arrange a compromise in favour of the selection of Lake George. I decline to believe that. When I asked the honorable member for Bland three years ago to support that site, he wasquite ready to do so. One of the reasons why he did not vote with me upon that occasion was that, like the right honorable member for East Sydney, he realized that there was no chance of that site being selected. The honorable and learned member for Illawarra and myself stood almost alone upon this question. What are the circumstances? I am satisfied that the selection of Dalgety does not truly represent the wish of the majority of the House. At the time that the choice was made, many honorable members voted for it only as a means of deferring the settlement of the question. I honestly believe that there is an absolute majority in this Parliament opposed to the site.

Mr Austin Chapman - The honorable member's leader said that he would resist any attempt to depart from that decision.

Mr CONROY - Theright honorable member for East Sydney was then speaking as the head of the Government of the day. Whilst occupying that position, he was bound to carry out the will of the Parliament. An Executive could not set up a law unto itself. His position was very similar to that of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs, who, when the selection was under consideration, spoke strongly against Dalgety; but, as a Minister of the Crown to-day holds that he must respect the decision of the Parliament. As a member of the Executive, he has to support, not that of which he approves, but that which the Parliament has determined upon.

Mr Austin Chapman - If that rule is to apply, the supporters of Dalgety will be able to claim the vote of the Minister of Trade and Customs.

Mr CONROY - But when the honorable member for Hume joined the present Ministry, I understand he stipulated that he should be allowed to discuss the question of the Capital Site unfettered by the Cabinet considerations, and that his leader agreed that he should have that liberty.

Mr Chanter - Then it is not a Government question?

Mr CONROY - It is not, so far as the Minister of Trade and Customs is concerned, and it seems to me that had the point occurred to the Minister of Home Affairs when he took office, he would have made a similar arrangement.

Mr Chanter - If the honorable and learned member's view of the position is correct, other votes will be affected.

Mr CONROY - But even if the right honorable member for East Sydney was bound when he made the statement to which the Postmaster-General has referred, to carry out the intention of the Parliament, we must recognise that a new situation now confronts us. At that time New South Wales had not expressed its disapproval of the site.

Mr Maloney - Was Mr. Carruthers then Premier of New South Wales.

Mr CONROY - I cannot sayfor the moment, whether or not he was.

Mr Chanter - He was Premier of New So uth Wales when the present Government took office.

Mr CONROY - That is so. Atall events, when the present leader of the Opposition said he would resist any attempt to depart from the decision of the Parliament, New South Wales had not made any protest against the selection of Dalgety. As that State refuses to assent to the selection of Dalgety, the Prime Minister, even if he had previously supported the selection of that site, would now be justified in saying : " I am not! disposed to oppose the wishes of one-third of the people of the Commonwealth, and therefore I shall endeavour to secure another selection which will be more in accordance with their desire." New South Wales went out of its way, so to speak, to allow the Federal Parliament to choose a site, and, in so doing, yielded up what, in my opinion, was a right that it undoubtedly possessed. But since it will be called upon, to hand over a large area, surely it has a right to say to this Parliament : " We do not think the Commonwealth ought to ask us to grant this site." When it takes up that position, surely it should1 not be said that it is. adopting a highly unfederal attitude. We know that if the Capital becomes established at Dalgety. New South Wales will be called upon at once to construct about thirty-two miles of railway, which, at the present time, at all events, will be unpayable. In these circumstances, can it be reasonably contended that the wishes of that State should not be considered by us? We should be thankful to the State Parliament for having pointed out to us that the territory is not a very suitable one. Instead of that, many honorable members appear to consider that it has taken up a disagreeable stand,i and the question seems to have resolved itself into one of whether or not we should interfere with or resent the action taken by Mr. Carruthers. That is not a reasonable position for this Parliament to assume. The agreement arrived at by the Premiers in conference was that the Federal Capital should be a reasonable distance from Sydney. It seems strange that, in previous discussion, that point has been almost waived. The honorable member for North Sydney was the only one who, during the debate on the Seat of Government Bill, impressed upon the House the full significance of that decision, but many honorable members - and I dare say that I was amongst them - were so busily engaged in lobbying and endeavouring to secure votes for certain sites that his arguments did not receive the recognition which they deserved. Can it be said that to establish the Capital on the borders of New South Wales and Victoria, would be to comply with the decision pf "the Premiers' Conference, that it should be a reasonable distance from Sydney? I am inclined to believe that if honorable members had realized the full effect of that decision, they would not have attempted to select a site off the main railway line between Sydney and Melbourne. Apart from the unfavorable climate, the character of the country, and its lack of railway communication, there are many other reasons why Dalgety should not be finally selected. We know that it is improbable that many public servants will be stationed at the Capital,, and that it is unlikely that we shall erect a city. I am sure that there is no desire to centralize the Public Service in the Federal Capital at the expense of the Commonwealth. Another point is that if the Capital be established at Dalgety, a delay of half-a-day must occur in the receipt and transmission of our mails. That alone should be a sufficient ground for a reconsideration of the question now that party disputes have passed away. As a matter of fact, many honorable members were actually preparing to reconsider it when a certain action was taken last week. In New South Wales it is hard to say what site would have been selected as the result of that reconsideration, but I am satisfied that, but for a little warm feeling that has lately been engendered) the decision of the Parliament would have been altered. It would be most unwise, however, for the House to stand by its former decision. We have a clear intimation that the Parliament of New South Wales does not intend to agree fo the selection of Dalgety. It is determined by every means that lies in its power to resist the establishment of the Capital there. Tha* being so, is the question at issue of such vital importance to the other States of the Union that we should deliberately determine to disregard the wishes of a State representing one-third of the people of the Commonwealth rather than forsake the decision arrived at? In what way would the rights of the other States be infringed by a fresh selection being made'? I am satisfied that the bulk of the people of Victoria would have had no objection to the selection of" Sydney as the Federal Capital, but under the Constitution such a selection is now impossible. That being so, we should seriously consider whether we ought not to select a site which would be more agreeable to the people of New South Wales. If we adopted that course no one could say, that_ we had backed down. Surely there could be no objection to our saying to the Parliament of New South Wales, "Whilst fully recognising the responsibility of the Commonwealth in this matter, we should like to know what site would be most acceptable to you." If a question were put to the State Legislature in that form, I believe the answer would be that the Capital should be somewhere on the main line between Melbourne and Sydney. Having regard to the importance of the question of the means of communication, I fail to see how any other decision can be arrived at. lt would be a serious matter, from the stand-point of Victoria, if the Capital were established at Dalgety, for practically all her leading public men would be precluded from entering this Legislature. In attending there, they would Be further away from their homes than they would be if the Capital were established in Sydney.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would be equivalent to going half-way to Newcastle.

Mr CONROY - Yes. In point of time they would be still further away, because the Cooma line is only a branch line, on which trains cannot be run at as high a rate of speed as that at which they are run on the main line.

Mr Brown - The Railways Commissioners pf New South Wales have estimated that it would cost ^120,000 to strengthen the Cooma line sufficiently to meet the requirements of Federal traffic.

Mr CONROY - Yes ; and it would cost another ,£150,000 to extend it to Dalgety.

Mr Austin Chapman - Less than that.

Mr CONROY - Not very -much less. Surely we should not ask New South Wales to go to this large expenditure unnecessarily. Is it wise, or showing a Federal spirit, to insist upon Dalgety, when the population of New South Wales, which numbers one-third of the population of the Commonwealth, is opposed to the adoption of that site? It is well known that the State joined the Union only because the representatives of the other States agreed with her representatives that the Federal Capital should be within her boundaries. That arrangement was made five years ago, and the Parliament is still sitting in Melbourne. At the present rate of progress, no final itv will ever be reached, and in any case, it must be nearly ten years before the Federal City can be made fit for occupation. What injury would be done to the people of the other States if we were to meet the wishes of New South Wales in regard to this matter?

Mr Maloney - As a democrat, I am willing to submit the decision of the question to a referendum of the people of Australia.

Mr CONROY - The bulk of the people are not in a position to give a wellconsidered vote on the subject, because they know little or nothing about the merits of the various sites.

Mr Maloney - It is an old conservative argument to say that the people know nothing.

Mr CONROY - I think that no man who is ignorant of a subject should be asked his opinion in regard to it.

Mr Maloney - The electors would probably vote for Melbourne or Sydney, and would be most likely to choose Sydney.

Mr CONROY - There would have to be an alteration of the Constitution before either of those cities could be made the Federal Capital, and it would be hard to persuade the people of New South Wales that any site within the borders of their State would be selected, seeing that, although the Constitution clearly sets forth that the Federal Capital must be within the State, the Parliament is still meeting in Melbourne.

Mr Maloney - The people of New South Wales are blocking the settlement of the question

Mr CONROY - They have suggested half-a-dozen sites for consideration, but this Parliament has declined to consider those sites, and has insisted on choosing a site which will require the expenditure of a very large sum of money to make it accessible. That expenditure will fall upon the people of New South Wales.

Mr Maloney - Gannett the Commonwealth build its own railways ?

Mr CONROY - In any case, the people of the Commonwealth would have an unnecessary burden to bear.

Mr Maloney - I should like to have the matter settled. I wish to get out of Melbourne.

Mr CONROY - Then why not accept one of the sites offered by the Government of New South Wales?

Mr Maloney - Because those sites are being pushed up against our faces.

Mr CONROY - The honorable member is mistaken. I ask him to read the whole of the speech of the Premier of New South Wales, and not to be content with the state ments which have been picked out by the newspapers.

Mr Austin Chapman - He said that they had not begun to fight yet.

Mr CONROY - He was referring to a fight as to where the Federal Capital should be, and is surely entitled to express his views strongly on the subject. If he thinks that Lake George or Yass would make a more acceptable site than Dalgety, why should we condemn him for saying so? If the honorable member for Melbourne wishes the question to be settled, he should "vote for one of the sites which have been offered to us by the Parliament of New South Wales. He must see that the Federal Capital should be near the trunk line of railway, so as. to be easily accessible from all the States. The expense of giving access to Dalgety by means of a railway would be very great. Even those who voted for Dalgety must feel that it is not a suitable place for the Federal Capital, because of its distance, its inaccessibility, its climate, and for other reasons. I trust thai this Parliament will show that it is a Federal. Parliament, and be willing to compromise with the State, instead of setting itself in opposition to it. If the matter comes to a vote, I shall oppose the retention of Dalgety; but, in view of the lateness of the session, and the fact that many members have left for their homes, I trust that the measure will, after some further discussion, be postponed until next year, when we can take a full vote, and when, I trust, we shall arrive at a satisfactory settlement. No doubt a great deal of heat has been engendered by the speeches in which the Premier of New South Wales has asserted the just rights of that State; and, unfortunately, the question, to some honorable members, seems to have resolved itself into this - Shall we support the Premier of New South Wales, or shall we follow the Prime Minister? Even if Dalgety were a suitable site, the fact that the people of New South Wales are opposed to its acceptance is a reason why this Parliament should reconsider its decision. I trust that honorable members will not allow themselves to be influenced by what I may call partizanship, but will recognise that the Premier of New South Wales has merely asserted the rights of that State, and that, if we are to show the true Federal spirit, we must select a site which will be acceptable to the great body of the people of the Commonwealth.

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