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Thursday, 19 November 1959

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works) . - Mr. Temporary Chairman, I just want to reply briefly to some of the points which the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) made when he foreshadowed this amendment. I think it is correct to say that when the principal act originally laid down the timetable to be followed in respect of proposed changes in the plan for the National Capital, there were very few of what I shall call the external safeguards which now exist for the purpose of protecting that plan. The honorable member spoke quite truly when he said that Canberra belongs to all the people of Australia. His objectives and mine are similar. We do not want ill-considered planning here which may be perpetuated for generations. At the same time, as the honorable member has conceded in part, owing to the speed with which planning and growth are taking place in the National Capital and the speed with which it is necessary to move in making changes in these days, it has been found cumbersome and awkward to observe the intervals of time at present laid down.

Mr J R FRASER - But the amendment relates only to reference of proposals to the joint committee.

Mr FREETH - Yes. The amendment proposes that suggested changes be referred to the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory. The existence of that committee is one of the additional safeguards that have been introduced. There are others. When the time-table was originally laid down, there was not in existence, for example, the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council, which, although it is concerned generally with what are regarded more as municipal matters, takes an interest in all matters affecting the Australian Capital Territory. There was not the National Capital Development Commission. That is a body of experts, it is true, and there is a tendency to be a little scornful of planning by experts. It is true that the commission comes under a government department in that it is partly responsible to the Minister for the Interior. At the same time, it has semi-independent status. What is more important, it is guided in its deliberations by the National Capital Planning Committee, which is composed of distinguished Australians who are selected, not as expert planners, but to represent the best in taste and experience throughout Australia in determining what the requirements of the National Capital shall be.

Finally, we come to the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory. As we have been reminded, that committee is created by resolution of the House of Representatives and the Senate. There may come a time when that joint committee will have a statutory basis, but, if I may say so, it is still in a probationary stage until we see how it is working out. If I understand aright, there are times when there is difficulty even in obtaining a quorum of the committee. At any rate, as yet, it has neither justified nor failed to justify its existence. I suggest that it has not proved conclusively to the Parliament or the nation its value or the justification for embodying it in statutory form at this stage. The challenge is there. The opportunity is there. I think that the committee does, and may well do, very valuable work. I hope that it will.

As I have said, the committee is at the present time constituted by resolution of the House of Representatives and the Senate at the beginning of each new Parliament, and I think it is just as well at this time to leave the matter there. I hardly think that the House of Representatives would like to introduce a further permanent statutory committee that has not proved its worth. If it is acceptable, as 1 have suggested, to let the committee remain, as it is at present, a body constituted by resolution of the two Houses of the Parliament, it would hardly be realistic, it seems to me, to require by act of the Parliament reference of matters to a committee which may or may not exist in the future. Therefore, I cannot at this stage accept the suggestion by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory that each proposed variation in the plan for the National Capital must be referred to the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory. I believe that all the external safeguards outside the Parliament which at present exist will, in practice, give fairly adequate warning to members of the Parliament and to citizens who are interested in the kind of thinking that is taking place, before that thinking is finally crystallized in a form which may be laid before the Parliament. I remind honorable members that, while all these planning and advisory bodies are considering proposals for changes in the plan, those proposals are still not finally formulated and have not reached a stage at which there is a final agreement or decision which can be referred to the Parliament for its verdict. Without closing the door forever on the suggestion that the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory may some day be a statutory body, 1 say that I do not think at this stage that the amendment is justified.

Mr. ANDERSON(Hume) [9.91.- Mr. Temporary Chairman, as a member of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, 1 want to point out that the committee recognized the need for some alteration of the time-table for the tabling in the Parliament of proposed changes in the plan for the National Capital. The committee recommended that seven sitting days after the lodging of an instrument of modification or variation should be allowed for either House of the Parliament to initiate action for disallowance, instead of five sitting days as was originally proposed by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth). The question that we have now to consider is whether his compromise of six sitting days is satisfactory. I am not prepared to debate the matter at length. I think that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) has made out quite a good case. The joint committee recognized that there was a need to speed up the procedure because of the present almost explosive expansion of Canberra. At this juncture, I am not prepared to oppose the compromise of six sitting days.

As to whether it should be made obligatory, as is proposed in the amendment, for the Minister to refer each proposed alteration of the plan to the joint committee, I feel the same as does the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory. 1 think that the Australian Capital Territory Committee could well be made a statutory body. I do not think that this Parliament can rightly place on a joint committee, which is appointed by resolution only, the obligation to examine all proposed alterations. I commend to the Minister the idea of making this committee a statutory body. I believe that, with the tremendous growth of Canberra, a statutory body of supervision could be appointed by this Parliament and I hope that the Minister will examine this proposal.

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