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Tuesday, 22 March 1927

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) . - I have no desire to harass the Federal Capital Commission. I have spoken for the purpose of getting the commissioners to do the work for which they have been appointed. So far as the building of Parliament House and similar structures is concerned I make no adverse comment on their work, although I am not sure that I could not stretch my comments to cover some of the buildings which Senator Reid has criticized so unmercifully.

Senator Foll - Senator Reid explained that the houses he referred to were erected before the commission stepped in.

Senator GRANT - So I understand, but at the same time I am sure a great deal of the criticism of the houses is amply justified. When challenged in regard to his statement that blocks had been thrown back on the hands of the commission, the Minister was unable to say definitely that even one block had been surrendered in that way. As a matter of fact, I do not think that he knows of one purchase that has not been completed, because in almost every case those who bought blocks at the original sale have been able to dispose of them at a premium. One has only to go to Canberra and make an offer to purchase a block to discover that such is the case.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - Senator Elliott says that one block was unsold.

Senator GRANT - But he also told us not long ago that when he desired to invest some of his hard-earned money, and employ labour at Canberra, the commission refused to give him a building site.

Senator FOLL (QUEENSLAND) - All the blocks in the particular locality where he wished to build had been taken up.

Senator GRANT - But the blocks were vacant. They were being held, and the honorable senator had to look around to find out who owned the site he wanted. He discovered from local auctioneers that it was available if he would pay a premium of £1,500 plus the annual rent for it. The honorable senator was right in declining to pay, but offered £750, and a compromise was effected under which he agreed, owing to the manner in which the commissioners were holding the land out of use, to hand over to the original lessee £1,000 or £1,100. Notwithstanding this and other glaring instances, we are informed by honorable senators that the commission is making a sufficient number of blocks available to meet public requirements. It is not doing anything of the kind. The action of the commission in this regard is worthy of the severest possible censure that could be meted out to it. If it were handling a private estate in that way its services would not be retained for five minutes. Its work in connexion with road construction, extension of the sewerage system, and the construction of Parliament House has been satisfactory. We have, however, to remember that prior to the commission taking over control of the Federal Capital Territory, approximately 250 miles of first class road had been constructed, the sewerage system was under way, the power-house had been built, and the Cotter dam was constructed, and, I believe, in commission. Very little has been done in private building for the reasons mentioned, although in the capital cities and suburbs great activity has been displayed during recent years. When land is required, it should be sold to the highest bidder. Does it not seem ridiculous that the Government should borrow money at 5 per cent, to be spent at Canberra when it has tens of thousands of vacant blocks, most of which could be leased, possibly in many cases at a nominal sum, which would be better than allowing land to remain idle. It is deplorable to find that the present policy is to construct the city at a snail-like speed. I trust that my comments to-day will be widely circulated, and that the Government will instruct the commission , to make blocks available to the highest bidder. Speculation can be prevented by arranging for re-appraisement every year or thereabouts, so that the Commonwealth would derive the added value instead of speculators.

Senator H Hays - People would never build there in those circumstances.

Senator GRANT - They are building in the capital cities of the Commonwealth and in the suburbs where properties are valued every year for taxation purposes, and on which rates are paid in proportion to the value of the land or the building, as the case may be.

Senator H Hays - That is on freehold property.

Senator GRANT - I realize that, but values are fixed, and rates and taxes imposed accordingly.

Senator H Hays - It is different with leasehold property.

Senator GRANT - I do not see that it makes any difference. The value of the freehold or leasehold is fixed, and the rateable value assessed. I trust that immediate steps will be taken to impress upon the commission the necessity of making more blocks available at Canberra in order to give the city an opportunity to prosper.

On more than one occasion I have referred to what I think is a very great blunder that is being made by the Railway Council in connexion with the construction of the first section of a uniform gauge of railway between Kyogle and South Brisbane. On this line the tunnels are to be wide enough to carry only a single line of rails. I again urge upon the Government the necessity of making representations to the Commonwealth .Railways Commissioner, Mr. Bell, to have this matter reviewed. I understand that one or possibly two other Railways Commissioners are not at all opposed to these tunnels being of sufficient width to carry double sets of rails. There is a striking peculiarity in connexion with this line which is not to be found on any other railway in Australia. In carrying the line over the McPherson Ranges, it has been found necessary to follow a spiral course, and one of the longest tunnels is on a moderately steep grade. It does not require an extensive knowledge of railway engineering to realize that when a heavy train is passing through the tunnel with a following wind, the smoke and steam from the locomotive will endanger the lives of the driver, fireman, and possibly, the passengers. For that reason alone the tunnels should be of sufficient width to carry two sets of rails. Probably there is no necessity at present to lay down a double line, but the tunnel should be wide enough for that purpose. The Sydney Harbour bridge, which is 169 ft. wide, is probably one of the widest in the world. It also has a clear waterway of 170 feet, a span of 1,650 feet, and a total height from the top of the arch to the high water mark of 455 feet. The engineer who designed the bridge is undoubtedly a man of wide vision, and realizes what the traffic of Sydney will be in years to come. From Sydney to Newcastle, all the tunnels are of sufficient width to carry two sets of rails, but when the main north line is left at Maitland, the first tunnel encountered is only wide enough to carry one set of rails. That is a most serious drawback. We have now the opportunity to take a wider vision than was taken when the line from Maitland to Grafton was constructed. This line, the construction of which is now being commenced, comprises the first section of the uniform gauge of railway, which will eventually be extended through Victoria and South Australia, to Fremantle. I feel sure that before long provision will have to be made for a double line of rails, and as the tunnels cannot be widened, while the line is in use, it will be necessary to discard the single-line tunnels and build double ones, or construct another single tunnel. I am informed on very good authority, that the cost of constructing single-line tunnels is about £150 per running yard, whilst that of building a double-line tunnel is only about £200 per yard. This is a matter which I think the Minister for Works and Railways should again bring before Mr. Bell. I do not think he would offer very much opposition, as it is largely a matter of cost. Quite recently an unfortunate driver nearly lost his life in a tunnel on the New South Wales railway system, in consequence of the density and impurity of the fume6. That may occur at any time on the Kyogle to South Brisbane railway if single line tunnels are used. Scattered throughout New South Wales are several single-line tunnels which have been discarded, and which are now used for the production of mushrooms. There should be no repetition of that wilful waste of money. I ask the Minister to consult with the three commissioners with a view to having the tunnels made wide enough to carry a double line of railway.

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