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Thursday, 1 December 1960

Mr J R Fraser . - Mr. Deputy Speaker, I support the bill and I agree with the remarks made by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who has just spoken for the Opposition on this measure. I believe that the National Capital Development Commission should be given the additional powers that will be conferred on it by this bill, but I am afeared that those powers do not go quite so far as they ought to go. It is true that the commission must have greater control over private building, both, I suggest, as to design and as to siting, so that, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said, the private construction in the community will fit into a pattern - a pattern which must remain the responsibility of the Government and of the Government's authority, which in this instance is the National Capital Development Commission. We have seen in the past the errors that can arise and the mistakes that can be made when adequate control over private construction is not exercised.

Some years ago, when the expansion of this capital city first entered on its present phase, a decision was taken that something which previously had been regarded as an essential feature of the garden-city concept was to be discontinued. I refer to the great question of the cutting of hedges. It will be recalled that the Minister for the Interior at that time, in his wisdom and in the sure knowledge that in the suburb of Kew, in Melbourne, the government or the local council did not cut the hedges, decided that the hedges in Canberra would not be cut at the expense of the Department of the Interior. The purpose behind the cutting of hedges in this city at the expense of the department was to maintain governmental control over private development. Indeed, the hedges themselves were planted by the government. They were planted according to a pattern and were maintained at a uniform, even height. These hedges added greatly to the attractiveness of this city, in my view, although, of course, that is a matter of opinion. A decision that they would no longer be cut at the department's expense was made and authority was given to tenants of government houses, or to persons who occupied their own homes, to have the hedges removed. Permission was given for replacement of the hedges with low stone or brick walls of an approved design.

This seems a trivial matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it bears directly on the necessity for governmental control over private construction. What happened was that the people of Canberra, exercising that sturdy independence which I have so long admired - although I do not necessarily agree with the result in this instance - went ahead and removed hedges, which were then replaced with stone fences of their own design without the approval of the department being sought. With the advent of the National Capital Development Commission has come the desire to restore the garden aspect of this city, which now, of course, is in some instance marred by unsightly fences which would never have been permitted had proper control been exercised. That is only one aspect of the problem of the planning of this city, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The amendment of section 11 of the principal act which is to be made by this bill will give the National Capital Development Commission power to plan and develop the National Capital. The functions of the commission are set out in section 1 1 of the act, of which proposed new sub-sections (3a.) and (4.), will replace the present, sub-section (4.). When we propose to give additional powers to any statutory body or any authority constituted by the Parliament, we must be certain that that body has exercised wisely the powers that it already has and that it will exercise wisely the powers which it is to be given. I have some misgivings in this respect in relation to the present bill. My experience has been that the exercise of the powers already held by the commission has not always had pleasing results and has not always been satisfactory to the people of this city. Under the powers conferred by section 11 of the principal act, the commission designs and establishes new suburbs. As the suburbs of the city extend outwards, the commission also exercises its power with respect to the construction and design of housing, and we find that the houses which are constructed most cheaply and which, consequently, will let at the lowest rentals, are ever father and farther away from the heart of the city and the places of employment. So we are building a city in which the people with the lowest income and the greatest requirement to travel, to their employment and for their children to attend school, are being pushed farther and farther out into the suburbs where transport costs are higher and where convenience is often lacking.

When we consider giving additional powers to the commission, we are entitled, I suggest, to assess the way in which it has exercised the powers that it already has. I give full marks to the commission in many ways. I am a layman. I am not expert in any of the fields in which the commission and its employees must be expert, but after all it is the layman who, in the final analysis, must assess the worth of many works. While I take issue with the planners and the experts in many fields, I give full marks to the commission for having attacked with vigour, though not always with imagination, the task that lies before it. I would say that in the engineering field the commission has done wonders. But when it comes to the architectural field, I do not hold this view. Of course, architecture is a matter of opinion and one opinion differs from another. Both may be equally good, but what pleases one does not please another. I say quite frankly that what the commission has done in housing does not please me and does not please many hundreds of people in this city.

The problem that has arisen with the establishment of the commission is this: As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro so ably said, the commission is now operating on an annual budget of £10,500,000 to £11,000,000. Through the expenditure of this amount, it has been responsible for a vast increase in governmental construction in Canberra and by providing services and roads, it has enabled a vast expansion of private expenditure in this city. All that expenditure has placed burdens on other departments of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth, of course, has many pockets and when it increases the amount that is in one pocket it does not always make adequate allowance for the consequent drain on other pockets.

In this instance, we have the commission with an annual budget approximating £11,000,000. That expenditure throws great burdens on other departments, to which the honorable member has referred. The Department of the Interior, of course, still retains the power to approve plans for dwellings in the Australian Capital Territory. The Government has not seen fit to provide sufficient funds to enable the department to increase its staff so that plans may be dealt with promptly and the work proceeded with. In fact, delays of up to eight weeks have occurred before house plans have been approved by the department.

Not only is this burden thrown on the department, but it is also responsible for maintaining a force of building inspectors who are required to see that building regulations and requirements are met in private buildings erected in the city. Because the vote to the Department of the Interior is not sufficient - I am sure that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) realizes this - it is not possible for the department to employ an adequate number of building inspectors to ensure that all private building is done according to the best building practices and to the requirements of the regulations. If I heard him aright, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro referred to shoddy building, and I believe that is an accurate description of much of the private building that has occurred. I have had instances given to me in which a man has completed the construction of a house only to have a completion certificate refused on the final inspection because the damp course had not been placed in its proper position in the foundations or some other feature in the roof structure or elsewhere in the dwelling had not been properly done.

This arises because of two factors. The first is a shortage of building inspectors to cope with the increased work being undertaken as a result of direct contracts from the National Capital Development Commission or of increased private building because of the additional areas of land that have been made available and because of the finance that has been provided by the Government through another agency. The second factor concerns the licensing of builders. This is within the competence of the Department of the Interior and the department, with ministerial approval prior to the term of office of the present Minister, has seen fit to grant building licences to any one. A person does not need to be a builder to obtain a builder's licence. What I am striving to do is to point out that while this bill grants certain increased powers to the commission, it does not go far enough to ensure that what we build in this place will be properly and well built. Anybody who goes to the Department of the Interior can apply for a certificate as a builder. He then becomes the builder of his own home and he employs labour on it or works on it himself. The circumstances to which I have already referred then arise, and we have a large amount of building which never has been passed by a building inspector. If the control of these matters were vested in the commission, or if the Department of the Interior were given the funds to employ the necessary personnel, these things would not happen.

The Minister, I am sure, would know that it is customary to have the footings of a building inspected. The trenches are inspected and, in theory, a building inspector should be present when the concrete is poured. The unscrupulous builder, when building for himself or working under contract, has been known to half fill the trenches with mud and to pour the concrete on top of that, if the inspector is not present. On completion of the building, he obtains a completion certificate. Ultimately the house passes into the hands of some other person who is buying a building which has been inspected only on completion and has not been inspected at the vital stage at which these practices have been adopted. I suggest, therefore, that there is a need either to have these additional powers granted to the commission or to ensure that the department responsible for enforcing the building regulations is able to employ sufficient building inspectors to see that proper standards are maintained.

Not only does the commission's work place an increasing burden on this section of the Department of the Interior, but it also places a burden on the Canberra Electric Supply, which is an instrument of the Department of the Interior. Obviously, the Canberra Electric Supply becomes responsible for the extension of electricity into all the extensive suburbs of Canberra. Here again we come up against a lack of power, a lack of control or a sheer lack of money. In the early days of this city, it was decided that it would be a city that did not have unsightly poles in the streets. It was wisely decided that all electricity wires, all telephone cables and the like would go underground where they had to traverse or pass along a street. But because of either a shortage of funds by the Canberra Electric Supply or lack of authority with the commission, we are now seeing the development of this undesirable feature in what was to be, and what should be, a garden city. These unsightly electric light poles can be seen in the less expensive suburbs, if I may put it that way. If honorable members go down the streets of Narrabundah, where the poorer houses are, they will see the unsightly wooden poles carrying the electric light or telephone wires. This is not so in Deakin and Forrest, where the commission, in its wisdom, has made land available at auction, and where it has placed very substantial building covenants on the blocks. In that suburb you will find that the power supply cables are taken underground. The streets are lined with neat concrete lamp standards, which add much to the attractiveness of the city, and which are installed much sooner in those suburbs than they are in, for example, Narrabundah.

Similar problems arise in the activities of the Postmaster-General's Department. Here again the Government does not pay sufficient attention to the effect on one pocket of putting amounts of money into another. Because the growth of this city is rapid - and for that I give the Minister full marks - there has been a rapid extension of telegraph and telephone services throughout the city and the suburbs. But once again the noble concept has been brushed aside. I have raised this matter in the House on previous occasions, and in raising it now I suggest that the time must come when we will have one authority with power to decide what shall be done in this city. At the present time we have a division of authority. The commission has some powers, given to it - grudgingly, I suggest - by the departments that previously had held them. There must come a time when the division that now exists will be resolved. There must then be an authority - I do not suggest that it should be this commission; it could well be an elected body - with power to decide what shall be done. That authority must have the desire, the ability and the power to build this city on the noble concept of its founders and others who have gone before us. I say to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that what has been done in this city in the past years is better than what is being done now. I say that without any apology to the commission, the Minister or any other person.

As matters now stand, the PostmasterGeneral's Department says, "We cannot afford to put our telephone lines and telephone cables underground". Those who planned the city said that they should be underground.

Mr Duthie - Are any of them underground?

Mr J R Fraser - They are in the older parts of the city, but as extensions of the city have taken place, because of the alleged shortage of money, the poles and the lines that they carry can be seen along all the new streets. It is false economy and it is foolish expenditure, because ultimately they must go underground. Even in a small country town or municipality, if the municipal authorities approach the PostmasterGeneral's Department and say, "We want cables put underground ", they can, by agreeing to undertake the additional expenditure, have their wishes acceded to. But here, where the Government is the municipality and also the construction authority, and where the Government also provides the finance, we do not get that happy conclusion. I am hoping that the time will come when there will be established an authority - I hope it will be an elected body - with the power, the desire and the ability to have these things done.

Similar problems exist in relation to the Parks and Gardens Section of the Department of the Interior. The extension of suburbs ever outward places a great strain on that section of the department, and once again foolish planning or foolish budgeting has resulted in insufficient money being made available for the Parks and Gardens Section to carry on its work. It is magnificent work and very well carried out having regard to the section's limited resources. It is not provided with enough money to do the job as it should be done. Similar remarks apply in the case of the Department of Works, which must employ the works' supervisors to ensure that construction under Government contracts is being carried out according to building regulations and other requirements.

The Minister probably knows of these problems, and he is probably doing what he can to see that funds are made available to the various authorities which are at present responsible for their expenditure. I hope he will agree with me that the time must come when these powers will be concentrated in one .authority. I hope it will be an elected authority, and that it will exercise its powers wisely in the building of this National Capital.

As the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has said, this bill, the purpose of which is to amend the National Capital Development Commission Act, will give the commission some additional powers. It will enable the commission to act as various departments were able to act before the commission was created, in providing assistance for sporting bodies in the community. I know that Canberra has been the subject of criticism for many years. Interestingly enough, the greatest body of criticism of Canberra emanated from Melbourne. It is now the

Melbourne people arriving in Canberra who seek the facilities that were originally provided in this city.

In earlier years the Department of the Interior was able to prepare sporting areas, such as tennis courts and bowling greens, and then hand them over to clubs to operate, on reasonable rentals and on a proper basis. Now, because the commission's money is allocated to the major projects, and because the Department of the Interior no longer makes money available for these activities, the dubs are being hamstrung in their efforts to provide - not entertainment for themselves, although admittedly that is a part of it - something for the community, and particularly for the young people, who are far from being a pampered section of the community in Canberra. It is not for me at this time to develop that theme further. I know that the Minister would object if I did. But this matter does come within the scope of our discussion, and I suggest that we are not providing properly for the young people of the community when we do not cater adequately for the housing needs of families and for the sporting facilities which will enable young people to lead the lives they should 'lead in the city in which they wish to live and work.

I commend the bill. I hope that the powers given to the commission will be used wisely and well. I hope the commission will enjoy the co-operation of the community in its efforts to build this National Capital. I appeal to the commission, through the Minister, to see whether it can build this city as it was envisaged. I suggest that the commission should not unnecessarily pare expenditure - that it should not pinch pennies here and there, taking something out of this year's budget because something can be done on a temporary basis. That kind of procedure becomes ultimately vastly more expensive than if the permanent job had been done originally. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the commission will look at the matter in this way, and that it will use the powers given it under this legislation wisely. They are wide powers. They include powers that can be exercised by engineers, by architects and by planners. I hope they will be exercised wisely and well, and that the work of the commission will lead to the development of a better city than we now have, the kind of city that we should have if it is to be a symbol of the nation, I support the amendment that has been foreshadowed. I may seek an opportunity, although I doubt it, to speak on that amendment in the committee stage.

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