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Tuesday, 26 August 1902

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - We have been informed by the Acting Prime Minister that Commonwealth officials have inquired carefully into the whole matter, and think that the sum set down is sufficient. It is possible that there may be some increase, but the reduction already made is very great.

Mr Poynton - Did not the Acting Prime Minister state as a reason why a Bill was not introduced that he was not sure that this sum would be found sufficient ?

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - No. I understood the honorable gentleman to say that this proposal would be taken as a working basis, and that if it was afterwards found to require revision it could be revised. But it does not follow that the amount is going to be increased from £5,000 to £13,000. As the Commonwealth grows there is no doubt that our expenditure will increase ; but I shall not be a party to any very great increase over and above the amount of £5,500 now proposed for this purpose. I intend to support the proposal to maintain both Governmenthouses. The matter has been stated in several ways. It has been argued that there should be but one establishment maintained for the Governor-General, and that until the federal site is formed, that establishment should be maintained in Melbourne. To my mind there are two possible sites for the Governor-General's residence, and if it is decided that we should have only one, the question arises whether there is to be a fair run between Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr McDonald - Another point is, whether two residences are to be continued.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - That is another aspect of the question. Here we are asked to lay down the principle that there shall be two residences, and honorable members from States other than New South Wales, and particularly from Victoria, have said that there should be only one, and that that should be Melbourne. In my opinion, if the whole question is viewed fairly, we are bound to continue for some considerable time the two residences which have been selected. The honorable and learned member for Corinella seemed to say that if it were a question of the Commonwealth being legally bound to New South Wales, he would be inclined to accept the position. Then he said afterwards that he could not accept a half-way arrangement He did not put his position verv clearly, but the impression he -left upon my mind was that, if he were satisfied that an agreement had been made between the Federal Government and the Government of New South Wales, he would be prepared to abide by that agreement. While honorable members have been speaking, I have gone carefully through the correspondence, and I have come to the conclusion, as regards the making of a contract, that if this were a contract between two private individuals, and brought before a court of equity, on the correspondence which has taken place, together with the acts of possession and ownership exercised over the property in New South Wales, the court would decree specific performance in the case of either party to the contract. The correspondence starts as early as 18th June, 1901, when the Prime Minister writes as follows to the Premier of New South Wales : -

I shall be gUid if you will kindly take into your early consideration the question of the occupancy of Government-house, Sydney, by the Government of the Commonwealth, for the purpose of a residence for His Excellency the GovernorGeneral. It will probably be necessary to arrange for the occupation of the buildings and grounds for a term oi three or five years, and I shall be pleased to receive any proposals you may have to make upon the subject. The Commonwealth Government will, as a matter of course, maintain the house, offices, grounds, &c, and effect any repairs which may become necessary during the term of occupancy.

After that letter was written a similar letter was written to the Premier of Victoria, and the correspondence shows that the head of the Government, acting evidently upon Executive authority, entered into a contract with the Commonwealth through its Executive officers. We may disapprove of the conditions of a particular contract, but when it has been entered into by the persons whom we have placed in a position to make contracts on our behalf, the Commonwealth, as a whole, will fee! itself bound by the act of its Executive officers. We oan only act through agents, and we are bound by their acts, although we may disapprove of particular terms of a contract. It will be found that ultimately the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth wrote to the Premier of New South Wales asking whether the Government of New South Wales were prepared to lend Governmenthouse in Sydney to the Commonwealth for the purpose of residence by the Governor-General, upon the same terms and conditions as Government-house in Victoria had been lent by the Government of that State. It will be seen from the correspondence that the -Premier of New South Wales was agreeable to the occupancy of Governmenthouse in Sydney upon the same terms. Throughout the correspondence it will be seen that definite terms are set out, and that a draft of a lease was before the two Cabinets. Then the Premier of New South Wales accepted it, and the Commonwealth Government accepted it. Not only did they do that, but the Commonwealth Government absolutely entered into possession of the building, and exercised effective ownership by appointing their own caretakers and making the repairs. On the other hand, the State Government of New South Wales ceased to exercise any control whatever over it, and became parties to another lease, making provision, at great expense, for a residence for the State Governor for a long term of years. If honorable members \» ere, through an agent, parties to a contract with a private individual, established under the terms of the contract agreed to by the Federal Government, they would feel that they had bound themselves to take Governmenthouse in Sydney for a definite term of years.

Mr Crouch - The approval of Parliament is always a condition.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - No, it is not always a condition. A hundred and one contracts are made by administrative officers, and if the approval of Parliament were always a' condition,' it would be impossible for Ministers to carry on the work of their departments, involving, as they do, the making of numerous small contracts. It is true that Parliament may exercise its power by refusing to appropriate money for certain purposes, but Parliament will very rarely inflict a hardship upon persons who have entered into a contract with the Government. Looking at the question purely as a question of law, I am of opinion that as regards New South Wales and the Commonwealth,, we have entered into a binding contract with the Government of New South Wales to occupy Government-house at Sydney for three years, and, whether the GovernorGeneral resides there or .not, we are under an obligation to maintain it, to look after the grounds, to keep the property in repair, and to keep it properly insured, or at all events to be responsible for it, and at the end of the term to hand it over in as good condition as when we entered it. That being so, I feel that it is necessary that we should vote for the amount set down in this proposed estimate. I put the matter now upon another ground, and I say that we owe a duty to New South Wales to carry out what may be really only an understanding. We know that these understandings cannot be enforced in a court of law. Honorable members from New South Wales do not ask for that, but they appeal to the court of honour, and ask honorable members of this House to agree to their request. What they ask is, to my mind, fair and just. They do not allege that this understanding induced New South Wales to enter the federation, but that the people of New South Wales believed that the Governor-General, as representing the sovereign power and authority underlying federation, and as the figure-head of the Commonwealth, would reside for a certain time in their capital city. If we deprive them of that which they would regard as an honour they will be aggrieved. They, in my opinion, have had reason to believe that the Governor-General would reside in their capital city during a certain portion of the year, and I think that the Commonwealth is in duty bound to carry out the understanding. I understand that the New South Wales members do not ask for this because of any provincial feeling, but because they think that in the first stages of the existence of the Commonwealth the people of the different States should live as a happy and united family, and that there should be a kindly and brotherly feeling pervading the Commonwealth.

Mr Crouch - They say - " Give us what we want and we will be federal in spirit."

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - No, they do not ask that we should give them what they want, but the people of New South Wales believed that this promise would be fulfilled, and they will feel aggrieved if it is not fulfilled. Though as free-traders and protectionists we may differ in this House, we know that the federal feeling exists amongst us, and I understand that it is upon this high ground that this matter is put by the honorable members from New South Wales.

Mr McDonald - We shall have to get upon high ground in Queensland, and have an establishment in Brisbane.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - We may have to fight for the federal feeling, and I believe we shall have the assistance and sympathy of honorable members of this House if the contention is urged in a federal spirit, which I think is a spirit characteristic of honorable members from our State. I have looked through the correspondence also with respect to the second point - as to whether the people of New South Wales had any reasonable ground for believing that Sydney was to be a place of residence for the Governor-General even for a certain time. In my opinion, the correspondence shows that they had every reason to believe that. In the first place, we know that the proclamation was to be issued in Sydney, and on looking through the correspondence and cablegrams dealing with the matter, it would seem as if the Premiers of Australia some time prior to the 7th July, 1900, were consulted upon the matter. They, of course, had no legal power to bind their Parliaments, but they were looked to as persons who, from the positions they occupied, were competent to express the public opinion of their States.

An Honorable Member. - They deny that.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - I do not care whether they deny it or not. I am pointing out that such facts as these would lead to the belief in the minds of the people of New South Wales that an agreement or understanding of some kind existed. On the 7th July, 1900, Earl Beauchamp, who was then Governor of New South Wales, sent the following telegram to the Secretary of State for the Colonies : - lie your telegram of 6th July - My Prime Minister desires to introduce next week Bill dealing with the question o£ State Governors after federation. He is anxious to have your permission to state that you desired Barton to inquire where Governor-General should reside, and chafe in answer to your request Prime Ministers o£ federating colonies consulted and agreed to New South Wales.

Mr Kennedy - That is denied.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - Assuming that it is denied, the question is whether the people of New South W ales had any reason for believing that an arrangement had been entered into, and I am showing that persons in very high positions in New South Wales entertained this idea.

Mr McDonald - Then we should have their testimony upon the subject.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - It is not a question of testimony. The point is whether the people of New South Wales had any reason to believe that a compact had been made, and I am pointing out that they had. I can rely only upon the evidence before us. It may be misleading, but it is vouched for by very high authorities,and must be accepted until we have some stronger written testimony to set against it. There are further telegrams on the same question in which expressions similar to those quoted by me will be found. We know that there was some communication with the Home Government when the Secretary of State for the Colonies issued a despatch dealing with the provision to be made for the residences of the Governor- General in New South Wales and Victoria, and prior to that despatch the Parliament of New South Wales, evidently acting upon some understanding, passed a Bill providing for a contribution by the State to the expenses of the Governor-General. The Parliament of New South Wales believed that the Governor-General was to reside in Sydney, and everything was directed to that end. Through every act that was performed by persons in authority - by the Parliament, by the State Governor, and by the Secretary of State for the Colonies - the people of New South Wales had held out to them the expectation that, for a certain time at least, the Governor-General would reside in Sydney.

Mr Isaacs - Solely in that State ?

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - No, for a certain time only.

Mr McCay - But they had no such impression prior to the second referendum.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - I do not know that the referendum has anything to do with this particular promise. The people accepted the Constitution because they thought thatNewSouth Wales was tohavethefederal capital located within her territory. The people of that State will feel that they have a substantial grievance if the arrangement which they believed to have been entered into is not carried out. They have spent large sums of money in fitting up Governmenthouse as a residence for the GovernorGeneral, and they will have just reason to complain if we do not keep faith with them. If it were open to me to decide from the beginning, I should be strongly opposed to the maintenance of two residences for His Excellency the GovernorGeneral. I should much prefer one residence for His Excellency, and that adequate provision should be made for him to travel through the whole of the States. His occasional presence in the various cities would help materially to strengthen the federal feeling. The States which are more remote from the centres of federal activity do not receive many visits from those in authority and those who represent authorityin the Commonwealth, and in this way federal influence is weakened. I regard the proposals of' the Government generally as just and reasonable, and as economical to an extent which will meet with the approval of honorable members. I shall, therefore, cordially support them.

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