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Wednesday, 21 October 1903

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) (Minister for External Affairs) . - The Bill which has just been returned to us arrives in a form so absolute in its rejection of the proposal indorsed by a large majority of honorable members of this House that it has become plain that a conference, which might in other circumstances have been a judicious expedient, could not be expected to yield any fruits at the present time. In those circumstances, I propose to allow the Bill to be placed on the notice-paper for Tuesday next, that being the mildest way of saying farewell to it. So far as the question of sites is concerned, the difference between the two Chambers at the present moment is unqualified. I am informed that the majority in favour of Bombala in another place to- I day was relatively as large as it was on a previous occasion, notwithstanding the fact that the will and the wish of this House had been most emphatically conveyed, both by the speeches made here and by the votes registered. In these circumstances, it appears hopeless to expect that, at this stage in the life of the Parliament, anything in the form of a compromise ' can be accomplished by way of conference Therefore, nothing remains but for the Government to take up the threads where they have been laid down, and to adopt such necessary steps as may permit of this question being considered by the next Parliament in circumstances which, it is to be hoped, will materially contribute towards an agreement between the two Chambers.

Mr Thomson - Are those steps to be taken as soon as the new Parliament meets ?

Mr DEAKIN - Certain propositions in relation to the procedure to be taken havebeen considered by my honorable colleague who has had charge of this measure, but they have been only partly discussed by the Cabinet, and therefore are not yet ripe for enunciation. The position which has been adopted from the first is not departed from by the Government. Ministers entertain the conviction, and entertain it very strongly, that the question is one which requires to be setttled as speedily as is consistent with a wise determination.

Mr Thomson - Will not the Government accept their responsibility in the matter ?

Mr DEAKIN - I do not wish to introduce any contentious matter into the debate ; but I think that questions of that kind are directed not so much with a view to assist in the choice of a site as with a view to their being employed for militant party purposes.

Mr Thomson - No.

Mr DEAKIN - They appear to be. Putting aside party considerations, the result of the election, whatever it may be, will not alter the opinion which I have always strongly held that this is one of the questions that call for speedy settlement. It demands the earliest decision that can be arrived at by the Parliament of the Commonwealth consistently with the discharge of its obligations to the people as a whole - consistently with its endeavour to make a selection that will have in view the illimitable future of Australia and the possibilities of its development. The site of the Capital must not be selected from any mere submission to the convenience of the moment or of particular localities or interests which now exist. Those considerations, of course, require to be recognised and provided foi-, but the larger interests of the people of Australia, as they will ultimately be, require to occupy the first place in our attention. The site of the Capital should be such that it may be in permanence the proper seat of government of the Commonwealth.

Mr Thomson - Is this a new question? Are we to have the whole thing over again ?

Mr DEAKIN - It ought not to be new. The honorable member can draw the inference which may fairly be drawn from what I have said. In my personal opinion these large aspects of the questions have been too much neglected. In the minds of some honorable members the interests of the immediate present have completely overshadowed all other considerations. That can be said without reference to any particular site.

Mr Thomson - The House has acted throughout on the suggestion of the Ministry.

Mr DEAKIN - It has acted freely on suggestions from the Ministry, and on such other suggestions as honorable members have been able to gather from different sources. Take my own case. I have not seen one of the sites, but have trusted to the evidence collected first of all by .the expert authorized by the Government of New South Wales and then by those appointed by my honorable colleague. From a consideration of those reports, and particularly from a consideration of the very striking and suggestive views of Mr. Oliver, I have formed the opinion which is an honest one, quite unbiased by other considerations, that, looked at from the Commonwealth standpoint, Bombala is the best site. That opinion may be erroneous. I must confess that in the course of the debate we have had contributions from members like the honorable member for Kennedy, the honorable member for Darling, and one or two others whose personal experiences in regard to that particular site have affected ray mind to some degree. When I was compelled to make a second choice I without hesitation turned to what, from a Commonwealth stand-point, appeared to be the next best site - Tumut.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was a great mistake.

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