Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 29 May 1941

Senator FOLL (Queensland) (Minister for the Interior) . - I shall bring the request of Senator Clothier concerning the Collie power-house under the notice of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender).

As to the proposed occupation of the London Stores building in Melbourne by the taxation authorities, I have, as Senator Cameron has said, already received a deputation. I have also had a certain amount of correspondence on the subject. The negotiations were conducted in the first place by the property officer of the Taxation Department with London Stores Limited. When the matter was first brought to my notice and I was asked to attend a meeting of tenants in Melbourne, I knew hardly anything about the transaction. I have since ascertained, however, that on account of the extension of the operations of the Taxation Department due to war exigencies, and the introduction of the pay-roll tax, additional accommodation became essential. A proposal to add a temporary floor on a section of the General Post Office in Elizabethstreet, Melbourne, to meet the requirements was found to be impracticable and had to be abandoned. The department was therefore compelled to look elsewhere for space, and it met with great difficulty in finding any that was suitable. London Stores Limited found itself able to offer the Government the lease of six floors of its building, and arrangements have been made to enter into occupation as from the 1st June. Practically all of the tenancies affected are of a weekly or monthly nature, and, having regard to the limited space each tenant is occupying, no insuperable difficulties should be experienced in the tenants finding other suitable accommodation. A substantial number of the tenants has already moved out of the building or made arrangements to do so. I believe that 50 out of the 70 affected have already vacated their premises. The honorable senator suggested that the Advanx building in Queen-street would be suitable for occupation by the Taxation Department. That building was specially constructed for garage premises. It has been roundly condemned by the Works Department as totally unsuitable for office accommodation for it lacks lifts, lighting and conveniences. The Government is not prepared at present to erect additional offices in Melbourne, but, in any case, the urgency of the need for accommodation to meet immediate taxation requirements is such that it will not permit of delay while a new building can be constructed. All sections of the community must realize that during the war the demands of the Government in various directions call for some re-adjustment and citizens should be prepared at this time to subordinate their convenience to the paramount needs of the Government. I have given an instruction to the property officer of my department in Melbourne to look into any complaints that tenants may have, in order to decide whether some compensation should be paid by the Government in respect of reasonable removal expenses, especially in instances where machinery has to be dismantled and installed elsewhere.

Immediately after the honorable senator introduced to me the deputation to which I have referred, I submitted the matter to the War Cabinet, which happened to be sitting that day, and it was agreed that favorable consideration and reasonable compensation should be given in hardship cases, particularly where machinery had to be removed. The honorable senator made some reference to rental charges. I have obtained some information respecting the amounts that are to be paid. Senator Cameron stated that an amount of £12,000 would be necessary to meet the cost of structural alterations. I am advised - and I accept the advice of my officers - that the total amount that will need to be expended by the Commonwealth Government to make these six floors suitable for occupation by the Taxation Department will be £6,500. It is not possible to compare, in any exact way, the rent that has been paid by the tenants in this building with that which will be paid by the Commonwealth, for the Commonwealth is taking over an extra floor. London Stores Limited has vacated its own workshop on the top floor in order to make the space available to the Government. I am also advised that the statement that the Commonwealth Government will be paying a higher rent than that paid by the tenants is also incorrect. The rental paid by the tenants for an area of 38,085 square feet is at the rate of 4s. 7¼d. a square foot without cleaning. If cleaning be included the rental would be increased to 5s. 7¼d. a square foot. A charge of ls. a square foot is generally recognized in Melbourne for office cleaning. The rental to be paid by the Commonwealth for an area of 45,010 square feet is at the rate of 5s. 5id. a square foot, which includes passages which are being taken over as office space and also cleaning costs. The Government therefore will be paying l£d. a square foot less than the tenants were paying.

Senator CAMERON - The total payable by the Commonwealth will exceed the total that has been paid by the tenants.

Senator FOLL - This is because the Government is taking over an extra floor. Until the honorable senator mentioned the matter this afternoon, I had no idea that Century Building was available. Before the deputation of tenants waited on me, I had raised the question as to the availability of the building for use by the Taxation Department, because I knew that the Air Force authorities were leaving that building in order to occupy their own premises at Victoria Barracks. 1 shall make some further inquiries regarding Century Building and should I find that I have been wrongly informed there will be trouble. I discussed with Mr. Jackson, the Commissioner of Taxation, the possibility of using that building, and he said that it was not entirely suitable for the needs of his depart ment. I was told definitely that it had been allocated for use in connexion with munitions.

Senator CAMERON - Assuming that Century Building is available what will be the attitude of the Government ?

Senator FOLL - I cannot say offhand, because this matter is already well advanced. To-day, I have taken two steps in regard to it; I have ordered fresh inquiries to be made in order to ascertain whether Century Building is available, and I have asked the chairman of the Valuation Board in Melbourne to supply me with an independent valuation and a report on the price that London Stores Limited propose to charge the Government for their building. The valuation already received was made by the Taxation Department's valuer and by my department's property officer in Melbourne. The valuation for which I have asked will be a further check. I hope to have information on the subject later this afternoon, but at this stage I cannot say whether or not there will be any alteration of the arrangements. The transaction has practically been completed, and the Taxation Department desires to become established in suitable quarters as quickly as possible. Like the honorable senator, I deplore the necessity for disturbing the tenants of the London Stores Building. Some of them are particularly unfortunate in that they have installed expensive machinery without taking steps to protect themselves by means of leases. Others, who took the precaution to obtain leases, will have to be given adequate compensation for the termination of those leases.

Suggest corrections