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Thursday, 9 November 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - There is one aspect of this question to which I again desire to direct attention. I personally accepted the Minister'sstatement with a good deal of pleasure, but I point out that we are making appropriations for the building of a city upon land which, at present, we do not own. I previously, directed attention to this very anomalous position. Surely, the first thing we ought to do is to devise a scheme for the resumption of such land as we intend to acquire ? It was always understood in the early days of the discussion of this matter that in the Federal Territory there was to be but one landlord - the Commonwealth. Have we all abandoned that idea?

Senator Findley - Not at all.

Senator MILLEN - Senator Findley, speaking evidently with authority, says that that idea has not been abandoned, and, if so, is it not time an attempt was made to realize it? Are we to wait, perhaps, for two or three years more before we resume the land we require, and, in the meantime, construct sewerage works, and spend the considerable sums to which the Minister of Defence referred, on other people's property? I suggest that the Government should immediately attempt to grapple with this problem. They should adopt what might be regarded as a bold policy of land resumption, unless it is intended that we should drift into the position we see around us in all the capital cities of the States. The Government should determine the area to be acquired for the city, and as much more as they think the Commonwealth should have ownership rights over. That will probably involve a very considerable financial undertaking. The land is there, and is going to be givenan added value-. I have no hesitation in saying that if the matter is properly handled we can, from the incremental value which will be given to the land, obtain a sum which will go a long way towards the building of the city itself.

Senator Givens - It ought to defray the whole cost.

Senator MILLEN - I think I speak with moderation when I say that in any big city in the world, it would be possible to form a syndicate that would be only too glad to take this job off the hands of the Commonwealth Government, if it were given the same opportunities of profiting from the increment of value which will be added to the land on which the Federal Capital is to be built. The question arises, how are the resumptions to be carried out? At present, the innocent and modest resumptions which are being effected are carried out by officials of the Home Affairs Department, acting under Ministerial authority, but no one will contend that the best way in which to carry out the resumption of big areas of land involving an expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds is by private bargaining in anybody's office. The undertaking is too big for anything of that kind, and I suggest for the consideration of the Government the creation of some tribunal to which, in the light of day, the owners of land which we shall require to resume will be able to present their claims, as is done in the case of Land Boards in at least two of the States. Before such a tribunal every matter could be inquired into, and evidence given by the owners of the land and experts of the Commonwealth Department.

Senator Pearce - We have practically got all that machinery under the Lands Acquisition Act.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister will pardon me, we have not. The Bill now before the Committee contains votes for the payment for lands resumed, and there is no indication of an intention to appoint a tribunal to deal with these resumptions.

Senator Pearce - They would come before a tribunal under the Lands Acquisition Act if the amount were disputed.

Senator MILLEN - I am looking for a much more simple procedure. The best illustration I can give the Minister of what I desire is the appointment of such a Board as is now in operation in New South Wales, where estates are resumed for closer settlement. These matters are referred to an open tribunal specially constituted to determine the value of the estates in question. In the Federal Territory we shall be dealing with a much larger area, embracing the estates of several individuals, and we should afford every opportunity to the owners to make good their claims, and the departmental officials to present their views as to the fair value of the land to be resumed. If these resumptions on an enormous scale were carried out in the way I suggest, they would be entirely free from any possibility of suspicion, and it would be in the interest of the Government, and of the' owners of the land, to deal with them in that way. Another matter in connexion with this seems to me to call very loudly for prompt action. In the Act we passed dealing with the Federal Capital a provision was inserted that land resumed should be acquired on a basis of its value in 1908. When are these resumptions to take place? Every year they are delayed will make it only more and more difficult to demonstrate the value of the land in 1908. I have no doubt that since the passing of the Act to which I refer in the Federal Territory and outside of it, there has been a considerable advance in land values. The owners of land will probably not be very particular about the date at which the increment of value accrues. How will the Commonwealth Department prove the value in 1908, especially if the resumptions are to be delayed for another four or five years? I am advancing this as a business reason why we should carry out the resumptions as early as possible. Another argument might fairly be advanced in this connexion. Is it quite fair to the owners of these lands to place them in such a position? They will be told the Government intend to take their lands. They will not be told when, but that when they are taken it will be at their value a long period since. These people should be told that their land is to be resumed or that it is not. It is unfair to them that they should be left between Heaven and earth, unable to sell or do anything with their land, doubtful if they will improve them, and in considerable doubt as to what they will receive for them if they are resumed. I am sure the Minister of Defence will admit that it is a business proposition that the Government "should, at an early date, determine the area to be resumed and the policy of resumption. In fairness to the land-owners concerned, the intention of the Act to which I have referred should be given effect, or it should be amended.

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