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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

Mr HECTOR LAMOND (Illawarra) . - The debate has been interesting as showing the value of the Public Works Committee. Apparently, when the Committee makes a recommendation which suits the Minister, its report is used as a. backing for his proposal; but when the Committee's recommendation does not suit the Minister, he ignores it and' proceeds with the work.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - A Minister ought not to do so.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - The Commonwealth pays the upkeep of the Committee, and provides, also, salaries for the Auditor-General and his staff of officers to see that public expenditure ia in accordance with the law. I should like to know how money was obtained for this particular work without the authority of Parliament.

Mr Tudor - Probably it was put on the Works Estimates, which often go through as a matter of urgency soon after the delivery of the Budget.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - Surely it is the duty of some one in the AuditorGeneral's Department to see that money is not expended without, proper authority.

Mr Atkinson - That is found out only after the expenditure has been made.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - The value of the Auditor-General's Department is very much lessened if it cannot discover irregularities within less than two years. '

Mr Story - Let the dead past bury its dead, and let us resolve to do better in the future.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - The only chance of getting things done better in the future is to be obtained by dragging up the dead past and commenting on it. A Government should set an example to the general , public in the matter of the construction of buildings and the treatment of employees. In Melbourne, however, the Department of the PostmasterGeneral is responsible for the continued use of an ugly iron shed which was erected for work that is now being done elsewhere.

Mr Poynton - The building in question was transferred to the Commonwealth by the State of Victoria.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - My point is that the excuse for the erection of that building was that it would be a temporary structure, yet the Commonwealth Government has kept it in use for nearly twenty years. What we need is a few citizens like the late Sir Henniker Heaton, who would pull down erections that were an affront to the public or interfered with their rights. That would make our cities more pleasant to live in. I have long held the opinion that it would be economical for the Government to resume blocks, or even larger areas, in the big cities as sites for public offices. Had the block on which the General Post Office, Sydney, stands been resumed when the Commonwealth took charge of postal administration an immense saving could have been made by the concentration of public offices there.

Mr Corser - One can always be wise after the event.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - We are never after the event; we are just as far in front of the position of twenty-five or fifty years hence as were those of a generation ago in front of the present position. It is true now as it was then that Commonwealth activities will extend, and central sites for public offices will be needed in the capitals. A far-seeing Ministry would secure such sites.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - What is needed also is a far-seeing Parliament and public.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - It is the duty of Ministers to lead and educate public opinion, not to pretend that the public refuses to do things about which it has never been consulted.

Coming to this building for the housing of the automatic telephone exchange, which is to be opened next month in Sydney

Mr Wise - It is already finished.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - For that reason, it is rather late to talk of what ought to have been done; but it should be possible to prevent the housing of public servants under improper conditions. Last year we had a debate about the unhealthy conditions under which the printing of notes was conducted in Melbourne, and the House was sympathetic with the Government in regard to an improvement. Yet there has now been erected in Sydney by the Government a building winch possesses all the defects of that which was then condemned. I am sorry that this building has been erected. The recommendation of the Works Committee was one which would have been adopted by any business man. The buildings in front of the site should have been resumed, to give access to the street, and any property that was not required could have been put on the market again.

Mr Fenton - But in Sydney private houses are being rented everywhere for the accommodation of Commonwealth officials.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - Yes. The Government is in this happy position - that in all the big cities they need offices for the work of a number of Departments, and therefore could economically concentrate their public offices on spacious central sites. This and previous Governments are without excuse for their failure to make proper provision for public buildings. They have rented premises at the expense of economy and efficiency, and, as in Melbourne, have allowed buildings which are an eyesore to remain long after the requirement for which they were erected has ceased. The Minister for Home and Territories informs me that £168,000 would be needed to replace the building in Elizabeth-street, Melbourne, which I have referred to as an eyesore. Had the first Commonwealth Government spent that sum on a suitable building, an immense saving would have been effected.

Mr Tudor - It would have been a thousand times better to increase the accommodation of the post-office by building on the Elizabeth- street site than to erect another structure at the top of Bourke-street.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - I believe that Mr. Webster was opposed to the removal of the General Post-office to the top of Bourke-street. I hope that some Government will take into consideration the future needs of the Departments in regard to public offices in our big cities, and will secure central sites for the erection of the necessary accommodation, so that edifices may be constructed which will give greater convenience and permit of more economical management and more efficiency in working.

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