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Thursday, 15 May 1924

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- This clause deals with the definition of " Commissioner " and " Commission," and on it we should test the question of whether or not there should be a Commissioner or Commission. If it is agreed to without argument, we shall tacitly agree to the appointment of a Commission. A good deal of discussion has taken place on this question. Some honorable members desire one Commissioner, some three, and others want no Commission at all. The Minister stated last night that it was necessary to make this change in the interests of economy, and he stressed the point that the administration of the Capital by two Departments was unsatisfactory. If the proposed alteration is agreed to, the Department of Home and Territories, which is administered by a Minister in another place, will be in control. The Bill makes no provision for ' this Parliament to be consulted. The very fact that the Minister whom the. Board must consult will not be in this House will debar honorable members in this Chamber from questioning him about matters connected with Canberra. If the administration of the Federal Capital territory is to be under a Minister at- all, that Minister should be in this Chamber, as it is this House which is supposed to have charge of the pursestrings. I doubt very much whether we shall be given an opportunity to deal with matters pertaining to Canberra in any circumstances, although the Minister said last night that many of the provisions of the Bill would necessitate this House being consulted from time to time. If appointed, the Commission will have powers as great as those of the Melbourne City Council. The Bill requires that they shall report quarterly, but such reports will be made to the Minister, and not to this House. The Commission's annual report has also to be furnished to the Minister, and although the Bill provides for it to be placed before honorable memhers, that may not be done until the report ls a year or more old. We all know of annual reports which have been presented to Parliament months after the close of the financial year; the same thing might occur in this case.

Sir Littleton Groom - The Bill requires that the report shall be presented to Parliament within 30 days of the receipt of it by the Minister.

Mr CHARLTON - Parliament may not be in session when the report is received. The Commission may alter the plans of the city. Work in accordance with the altered plan may be in progress for six months before this House has an opportunity to disallow the modification or variation which has been made. What would be the use of disallowing an alteration after so long a period had elapsed? In those circumstances it is idle to say that this House would have control. Throughout the Bill the word " Minister " occurs. There is to be no obligation on his part to bring these matters before Parliament, so that the administration will rest entirely with the Commission.

Mr Gregory - What has all that to do with the definition clause?

Mr CHARLTON - If we allow this definition clause to pass, we tacitly agree to the appointment of a Commission.

Mr Gregory - Let us deal with that on the clause referring to the appointment of a Commission.

Mr CHARLTON - We shall adopt whatever procedure we consider necessary or desirable. If the honorable member desires to raise a point of order, he may do so. The definition clause states that " Commissioner " means a member of the ' Commission,- and that " Commission " means the Commission under this Act. As we on this side are against the appointment of a Commission, we desire to register our protest now, and not allow the matter to reach a later stage. It would save time if the question were settled now. As this matter was fully discussed on the second reading, I do not desire to reiterate the arguments then put forward, except to say that the work at Canberra is now proceeding satisfactorily. That is admitted, even by members in favour of the appointment of a Commission. If that state of affairs exists while the work is under the jurisdiction of this House, why should we appoint a Commission at additional cost ? The salaries of three Commissioners would total £7,000 per annum. That amount, although considerable, includes no provision for any additional staff. If a Commission were appointed, it would not then be a question of three men only, as it would gather around it a big staff, and add to the cost of Canberra by probably £20,000 or £30,000, instead of £7,000 a year. In order to test the question of the appointment of a Commission, I ask the Committee to negative the clause.

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