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Thursday, 25 September 1902

Mr SAWERS (New England) - I do not think that this is a suitable occasion upon which to discuss the merits of any of the sites proposed for the federal capital. That may well be deferred until we have proper information before us. I shall refrain, therefore, from trespassing upon that ground, except so far as it may be necessary for the purpose of commending my amendment to honorable members. I am in favour of establishing the capital entirely away from all centres of population, and I do not attach any great weight to the objections which have been raised upon financial grounds. It has been repeatedly stated outside Parliament that in view of the great financial difficulties of. Australia, which will probably become more acute during the next year or two, it would be unwise and unpatriotic on the part of this Parliament to approve of the establishment of the federal capital at present. It has been urged that we might remain where we are for many years to come. But I think that those persons who have objected to the early establishment of the federal capital, on the score of the expense involved, have over-estimated the outlay. As the Minister has pointed out, there will be no necessity to erect extensive or elaborate buildings for many years to come ; and; even if we had designs prepared for all the buildings that would eventually be required, we need not complete them within a generation. If we spent in the erection of the federal capital one million of money in ten years that would be quite sufficient.

Mr Thomson - We could do with a much smaller amount.

Mr SAWERS - If we have any belief in the future of the federation, an expenditure such as I have indicated would not be too great. I have the strongest sympathy with the Minister in this matter. Certain honorable members have from time to time baited the right honorable gentleman in regard to this question. They have charged him with being an enemy to New South Wales, and with having no heart in the movement for the early establishment of the capital. Although I believe that a motion of this kind might have- been tabled some months ago, and although I suggested that the Ministry should take the responsibility of reducing the 4-5 or 50 suggested sites to five or six, and ask the House to approve of the appointment of a board of experts, I recognise that we have been engaged upon very urgent work, and that so long as this matter is dealt with during the present session there will be no substantial grievance against the Government. I believe that the Minister is true to the compact embodied in the Constitution, and that he is a fervent friend of the people of New South Wales, who desire to see the capital established within their borders as soon as practicable.

Mr Fuller - Why should not the experts have been appointed months ago 1

Mr SAWERS - I am free to admit that they might have been appointed long before this, but, after all, we have been engaged in dealing with very important business, and the delay of a few months, or even, a year, will not mean much in the history of the federation. I do not think the Minister has deserved the somewhat bitter criticism which has been levelled at him. J. approve of the motion, although I do not think it goes quite far enough. I do not wish to discuss the merits of the sites mentioned in the motion, but I have serious objections to one or two of them. I have indicated that I am in favour of the capital being established in the bush, away from any distinct town. Although I do not claim to be a disciple of Henry George, in so far as he advocates the nationalization of land, where such a reform would interfere with well established communities, I think that we shall start the federal capital upon lines sound if we decide not to sell any land within the federal area. I believe that in time the revenue derived under a proper leasing system, would help to recoup the expenditure involved in the establishment of the capital. If the Albury site, for example, included the existing town of that name, and the whole site were nationalized, a considerable sum of money would have to be paid for the land resumed. The same objection would apply to the Orange site if the town were included within it.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The revenue of the Commonwealth would be all the greater.

Mr SAWERS - I do not suppose it is intended that the actual towns in either case should be taken in. I think that the motion as it stands is too restricted in its scope. It is quite possible that the experts may find that none of the sites mentioned are entirely satisfactory, and we should submit other sites for examination and report. The Minister has referred to Bombala, and it is very well known that certain honorable members were very much impressed with that site, not so much on account of the situation in which the future capital would be placed, as because of the idea that the federal area should embrace Twofold Bay, and thus enable us to establish a federal seaport. That idea is magnificent, but we should have to reckon with the State Government of New South.Wales. I doubt very much if they would consent to hand over to us 1,000 or 1,500 square miles of country, and enable us to assume control of the seaport of Eden, which might in time become a serious rival of Sydney. They might be quite agreeable to carry out. the compact embodied in the Constitution, and to cede to the Federal Government a site embracing from 100 up to perhaps as much as 300 square miles, but they would not agree to hand over 1,000 or 1,500 square miles and give us Twofold Bay as a federal port.

Mr Kirwan - Surely the Parliament of New South Wales would not wish to indefinitely defer the settlement of the federal capital question ?

Mr SAWERS - I think that the people of New South Wales would object to the federal authorities taking control of a seaport which would compete with Port Jackson. They desire that the federal city should, if possible, provide an outlet for the goods imported by the merchants of Sydney.

Mr Henry Willis - How far is Armidale from the nearest port ?

Mr SAWERS - About 70 miles.

Mr Henry Willis - That is not much more than the distance between Twofold Bay and Bombala.

Mr SAWERS - If it were considered necessary to embrace a seaport within the federal area, Armidale would be just as favourably situated as would Bombala. If a federal seaport were established the Australian navy of the future would have its headquarters there.

Mr Henry Willis - It could never ride at anchor in Twofold Bay.

Mr SAWERS - I desire to know how the Minister can reconcile his action in asking this House to consent to Albury being reported upon, with his omission of Armidale. Unfortunately, no report has been sent in by the New South Wales commissioner, Mr. Oliver, with reference to Armidale.

Mr Wilks - Was that site ever submitted to him for report?

Mr SAWERS - Yes ; but somewhat late in the day. Mr. Oliver has been more than once seriously ill, and it took him a long time to perform his work. I believe his report is now completed, but that it has not yet been received by the Government. I am, however, in the position to inform honorable members that Mr. Oliver was rather surprised that such a magnificent site was to be found at Armidale, and his opinion is that it is second to none. I was doubtful about the water supply, but the district surveyor and another expert engineer from Sydney inquired into the whole matter, and reported that no other site would have a better water supply than could be provided at Armidale.

Mr Fuller - Has the honorable member seen the Armidale site ?

Mr SAWERS - Yes ; I know it well. In order to provide a water supply it is proposed to construct a dam across the Guyra Gorge.

Mr Fuller - We all saw it.

Mr SAWERS - The honorable member did not see the Guyra Gorge, which is several miles away from the site inspected by honorable members on their recent trip.

Mr Henry Willis - It was pointed out to us in the distance.

Mr SAWERS - The honorable member would require to be an eagle and soar up in the air to the height of a mile or two in order to see the gorge from the site he visited. The Armidale site is suitable in every possible way. It possesses a splendid climate and beautiful scenery, and an ample water supply could be provided. The only objection that appears to be raised against it is that it is north of Sydney, and is not situated between the two great cities of Australia. I notice that a distinguished gentleman, who occupies a seat in the Senate, said he would not think of going north of Sydney to look at any site for the federal capital, because he regarded it as essential that it should be situated to the south of Sydney. I would point out, however, that the trend of population iB northwards from Sydney, and that on the northern rivers of New South Wales there is a lot of splendid country, capable of sustaining a large population. The Armidale site does not include the city of Armidale. If it did I should look upon it as a grave objection, for reasons which I have already stated. I am desirous that the federal territory shall be as free as possible from acquired interests. It is quite possible that one or two of the sites proposed to be inspected by the committee of experts may fail to receive the approval of Parliament, because I believe that the majority of honorable members think that the federal capital should be as free as possible from valuable freehold property. They desire that a site shall be acquired as the absolute property of the Commonwealth. The Bombala site, although perhaps in itself a very fine one, might fail to receive the sanction of the New South Wales authorities if too much territory were sought to be obtained. Then, again, it is proposed that the Lake George site shall be inspected by the experts. Without going into details, I may say that that site may not be found to be a suitable one.

Mr Wilks - It has more available Crown lands than has an}' other site.

Mr SAWERS - That may be, but I think there would be a difficulty in obtaining a proper water supply. I think there should be a wider choice, and that any other site which has reasonable claims for consideration should be included in the motion. The great antagonism shown to the selection of the Armidale site is due to its geographical position. I accompanied members of another place on their recent inspection, and I know that they were strongly impressed with the beauty and general suitability . of that site. In answer to the objection of the President of the Senate,

I would ask - What object should we have in view in selecting a site for the capital ? Should we consider the convenience of present members of the' Federal Legislature, or should we secure what is likely to be the most convenient site in the not-far distant future? A most important document, to which reference has already been made by the Minister for Home Affairs, was presented to the members of the Adelaide Convention by a committee of statisticians. That document dealt with the question of the trend of population, and it set forth that in 1940 - that is only 38 years ahead, and we need not be very particular to a few years - New South Wales would probably have a population of S,000,000 ; that Queensland would have an estimated population of 7,500,000, and Victoria an estimated population of 4,000,000, or a little more than half of the estimated population of Queensland. It was also estimated by the statisticians that the other States of South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania combined, would probably have only a population of 2,500,000. If we credit the Armidale site with only half the estimated population of New South Wales in 1940, and add the anticipated population of Queensland, we find that the population north of Sydney in 1940 will amount to 11,500,000, or considerably over half of the then estimated population of the Commonwealth. If we throw in the whole of the population of Sydney and suburbs, where the bulk of the population exists, nearly three-fourths of the population of Australia will be included within a line stretching from a little south of Sydney, north throughout Queensland. Having regard to the opinion of the statisticians of the various States who met in conference to consider this question, it cannot be denied that 40 or 50 years hence Armidale will be in the very centre of the densest population of Australia. If, as I have shown, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania combined will not have a population of more than 2,500,000, is it open to any representative of South Australia to sneer at the proposition that it is possible to have the federal capital north of Sydney ? The grounds which I have set forth are, in my opinion, amply sufficient to justify the inclusion of the Armidale site in the list of places to be inspected by the experts, and I am astonished that the Government should have ignored it while proposing that Albury shall be inspected. I do not object to an inquiry into the suitability of Albury, but I very much resent the failure of the Government to include Armidale in the list. Honorable members who have visited the Armidale site know that it is a beautiful spot, free from any town, and that it would not involve any very heavy expenditure to acquire a magnificent area there. It is a lofty table-land, with a splendid climate, and its beauty is almost unrivalled. Honorable members saw comparatively little of it during their recent inspection, but what they did see was only a sample of hundreds of thousands of acres which surround it. My principal reason for advocating its inclusion in the list is that it is justifiable that inquiries should be made into its merits, as we have not to consider the convenience of the present Members of Parliament, but the convenience of the people of Australia in the future. I do not wish to oppose the motion, but I earnestly ask honorable members to do justice to the Armidale district, and not to allow themselves to be swayed by the fact that it does not lie between Sydney and Melbourne. I move -

That after the word " Albury " the word "Armidale" be inserted.

Mr Bamford - Why not move that the word " Albury " be omitted with a view to the insertion of the word " Armidale."

Mr SAWERS - I shall not go so far as that.

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