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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr McEWEN (Indi) (Minister for the Interior) . - I submit that the honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr) has based his contentions not only upon wrong premises, but also, and more particularly, upon an inaccurate knowledge of the statute concerned, as well as of the procedure involved. The honorable gentleman, for instance, has complained that members of Parliament were 'not aware that a proposed alteration df the plan had been tabled. The tabling of the proposed alteration, as I stated when the question was raised on the adjournment of the House last week, was made. in accordance with the statute.

Sir Charles Marr - That was after the time for objection to it had expired.

Mr McEWEN - By that the honorable gentleman can only mean that I explained what had been done 'to an honorable member who raised the question after the statutory period had expired. ' As I have already informed the House, the alteration of which the honorable member now complains was made entirely in accordance with the statute and with normal procedure. The statute demands, first, that the Minister shall approve of the proposed alteration ; secondly, that a plan showing clearly the proposed alteration shall be published in the Commonwealth Gazette; and, thirdly, that at the first opportunity a copy of Chat Gazette shall be tabled in Parliament. It is then at the option of any member of either House, within fifteen sitting days, to move for the disallowance of the proposed alteration.

Sir Henry Gullett - In the meantime, the work is proceeding.

Mr McEWEN - The statute does not specifically provide whether Or not the work may proceed in the meantime. I think it is a reasonable assumption that no work of any magnitude should be proceeded with until Parliament has had an opportunity to exercise its right to disallow any proposed alteration of the plan. The alterations of which the honorable member for Parkes now complains were of a very minor nature, and the only work . proceeded with prior to the expiry of the statutory period was that of kerbing and guttering. I am prepared to admit that it would have been advisable had 'that work not been proceeded with until members of Parliament had had an opportunity to move for the disallowance of the proposed alterations ; and I give the assurance that, should similar circumstances arise in the future, no work will be proceeded with until the statutory period for disallowance by Parliament has expired. In the present instance, however, the intention of the Government to erect a high . school on this area would not have been affected by whether or not Parliament agreed to the alteration of the plan. The alteration involved only the extension of a circular road for a distance of 200 feet, with a consequent small increase of the area set aside for the construction of a high school and the provision of playing fields and suitable surroundings. Whether or not the addition of this 200 feet was permitted, the Government intended that the erection of the high school should be proceeded with. Disallowance of the proposed alteration would merely have meant an insignificant restriction of the area surrounding the school. The honorable gentleman's contention, that the area upon which the high school building is now being constructed and playing fields and surroundings are to be laid out, was specifically set aside under statutory authority for university purposes, and is now being improperly used, is entirely wrong, and without foundation. To support his contention the honorable member referred to the Griffin plan. But so many variations were made to the original Griffin plan in the second decade of this century - many of them by Mr. Griffin himself - that it proved to be almost impossible to keep up with them. Not one of those early plans was endorsed by Parliament. In actual fact the final plan for Canberra, which was approved by Parliament in 1925, was not published in the Commonwealth Gazette until the 1.9th November, 1.925. The honorable member for Parkes interjects that he has that plan in his hand. My reply is that I have the original Gazette and plan in my hand.

Mr Francis - Does it differ in respect to this area from the plan which the honorable member for Parkes has?

Mr McEWEN - I have not seen that plan. I should be glad to examine it. But on the official plan published in the Gazette there is 'shown an area, which, apparently, was set aside for university purposes, although no reference is made to it as such. An area for this purpose was marked on many of the earlier plans which Mr. Griffin handled, and I think it may be properly assumed that the area to which I have referred on the plan which I hold in my hand, was intended for university purposes. But another semi-circular area, adjacent to the probable university area, is clearly shown on this plan, though without any indication whatever that it was intended to be considered as part of the university area. I have not been able to find a record in any statute, publication-, Commonwealth Gazette, or departmental file, which indicate." that the area upon which the new high school is being erected was ever intended for university purposes. On the contrary, ample evidence is available to show that it was not intended for this purpose. In November, 1927, which I think was within the period during which the honorable member for Parkes was Minister for Home and Territories, a committee, consisting of Sir Robert Garran, Sir David Rivett, and Sir John McLaren, who was then Secretary to the Department of Home and Territories, was appointed to report upon the establishment of a university at Canberra, and included in its report a plan which showed the area of land set aside for, or recommended as, the site for the university. The land upon which the high school is now being erected was definitely excluded from that area.

Mr Barnard - What is the date of that report?

Mr McEWEN - The 30th November, 1927. About the same time a substantial alteration of the statutory plan for Canberra was submitted to Parliament by the honorable member for Parkes in his capacity as Minister for Home and Territories. -This proposed that the university area should be reduced, not by a mere 200 feet, but by 30 or 40 acres. That variation of the Griffin plan was the most extensive that has yet been submitted to the Parliament. It was also during the term that the honorable member for Parkes held the portfolio of Minister for Home and Territories that, for the first time, the proposal was advanced by the department that the area upon which the high school is now being erected should be included in the university area'.

Sir Henry Gullett - Who made the decision that the new high school should be erected in this locality?

Mr McEWEN - The lands of Canberra available for the erection of buildings of an educational character are, I presume, to he used at the discretion of the government of the day provided that its decisions do not conflict in any way with existing statutes. I believe that the decision to erect the high school on its present site was made by the government of which the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) was a member. In support of my statement tha t the proposal to include this site within the proposed university area was made while the honorable member for Parkes was Minister for Home and Territories, I submit to the House a plan showing, by a red dotted line, the area reserved by statute for university purposes and, by a yellow line, the area proposed to be included in the university area but now being used for high school purposes. That plan was never proceeded with.

Mr Harrison - Does the Minister say that the area upon which the high school is now being built was not included in the area originally set aside for the university ?

Mr McEWEN - I most definitely say so. It is beyond argument. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) may examine the endorsed Griffin plan to satisfy himself on the point.

What I have said must surely dispose of the contention of the honorable member for Parkes that the Government has acted improperly in building the high school on its present site. His charges that it had illegally altered the Canberra plan and had gone behind the backs of members of this House to do this work are also definitely disproved. The honorable gentleman also inaccurately stated that the rear view of the new high school building would be presented to visitors arriving in Canberra. The design .of the building is such as to make it impossible to describe one aspect as the front and another as the rear of the building. The elevation which perhaps would most likely be described as the front elevationwill actually face the city area.

The honorable member for Parkes seems to be under the impression that the Public Works Committee Act places an obligation upon the Government to submit to the Public Works Committee the proposal to build a patents office in Canberra. That also is incorrect. The original Public Works Committee Act obliged governments to refer to the Public Works Committee all proposals to erect buildings, except those related to defence works, which were estimated to cost more than £25,000 ; but as recently as 193(5, when the Public Works Committee was -reconstituted, the act was amended so as to relieve the Government of that obligation, a provision being inserted that Ministers might at their discretion refer proposed buildings to the committee.

Mr Francis - Members of Parliament were also empowered to move for that to be done.

Mr McEWEN - That is so. The honorable member for Parkes seems to be unaware of that important amendment.

In view of the statement I made this afternoon that a representative committee had been appointed t<> advise the Government in connexion with the development of Canberra, honorable members may rest assured that any fear that serious and improper departures will be made from the endorsed plan are groundless.

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