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Wednesday, 21 October 1903

Mr SPEAKER - It would be quite out of order for the honorable member to discuss that measure, or to in any way anticipate debate which may take place next week. It will not, however, be improper for him to make remarks incidental to the matter so long as . he does not discuss the Bill itself.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is all very well for the representatives of Victoria to sit back and laugh. They have won upon the Capital question, and, therefore, they are entitled to laugh. I think, however, that we have a right to complain of the statement made by the Prime Minister with regard to this very important matter. As usual, he uttered beautiful words which simply meant nothing, and which afforded very poor comfort to those who are intensely interested in the selection of the Capital site. In the multitude of words he used, however, there were one or two expressions to which I think we might fairly call attention. The Prime Minister took it upon himself, as head of the Government, to tell us for the first time that, in his opinion, we had not nearly enough information upon the subject. It is a pity that he did not make that communication before. It is a matter for regret that the necessary information wasnot obtained before the Capital site question was submitted to the House for discussionHas it been the opinion of the Government all along that this question was not ripe for settlement ? Have they been saying to their friends in Victoria and elsewhere who have been with them in this business that the question was not ripe for settlement? If SO would it not have been fairer to us, who have been waiting for a solution, if they had. told us that they were not prepared to submit the question in a definite form, because they had not sufficient data ?

Sir William Lyne - We do not admit anything of the sort.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Prime Minister said that in his judgment we had not sufficient information to determine the question.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - He said that he had not visited the sites, and had not sufficient information himself.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Although the Prime Minister may not have been speaking, for the members of the Cabinet, he was speaking as their responsible mouth-piece, and I contend that he had no right to allow this question to come before the House at all, if he believed that it was not ripe for settlement, and that there was important information which should have been obtained in order that Parliament might arrive at a just and fair conclusion. Hetells us that next session the Government intend to resume the quest for further information. That is to say, we are going to play over again the sorry farce which has been played in this Parliament. As soon as the new Parliament meets, presumably the Government intend to appoint a Commission, and to send them searching through the country for other sites - to ascertain if a particular kind of gooseberry grows in one part of the State, some big potatoes in another district, or if suitable building stone can be found somewhere else. I have no hesitation in characterizing the whole proceedings of the past six or nine months as the veriest farce. The honorable gentleman justified the delay in taking Members of Parliament around to see the sites. I do not want to go into that matter again. I am prepared to accept his statement that it could not be done before ;. but he should have done what he was urged to do at the time. Honorable members who visited the sites should have been enabled to form an opinion as to the selection of the territory within which the Capital was to be located - to say, for instance, whether it should be in the Bombala district or in the Lyndhurst district, or whether it should be in the north. They should have been in a position to say, broadly, where the locality should 'be. Further investigation should then have been made as to the site upon which the Capital should be erected. That is what we are now told has to be done, after the territory has been selected. The criticism has been justly made that we are "putting the cart before the horse." There is no doubt that the territory should be selected before the site is chosen. The Prime Minister now tells us that he is going to start in search of a locality as soon as the new Parliament meets. That undertaking carries with it, I suppose, the appointment of a Royal Commission to make a further investigation and report, and it will also carry with it the usual reasons for further delay, until the decision of the matter is once more postponed right up to the end of the second Federal Parliament. Then it may be that an undesirable site will be selected. What has caused the present crisis, and the dead-lock 1 Simply the selection of a site which is not practicable for many years to come - a site involving, we are told, on the authority of experts, an expenditure of £5,000,000 or £6,000,000. I refer to Bombala. Including the port, the defences, and other works, the location of the Capital there, would involve the expenditure of about £6,500,000. I am not disappointed at the result. Candidly, I have been expecting it for months ; but I have done all that l could to arrive at a very different ending, and I feel very strongly that the persons who are responsible for the fiasco are the members of the Government themselves. The Minister in charge of this matter could have had the territory selected twelve months ago had he chosen. We were in as good a position then to choose the territory as we are now. Had it been chosen, there would have been no difficulty in arriving at the selection of a suitable site on which to place the Capital. But we look for light and leading to the Prime Minister, and in the closing hours of this Parliament, and in probably the last speech which he will make, he tells us that he does not believe that we have sufficient information to enable us to to deal satisfactorily with the selection of the Capital site. The only proposition he makes is to delay it until the next Parliament, and that in the meantime we shall continue our search for more information. It is time that the Government made up their minds as to what they will do. So far the question has been treated as a non-party question. My own opinion is maturing that the question will not be definitely settled until it is made a very acute party question. There will have to be a Federal Capital party in this House before the matter is settled as it ought to be. I hope soon to see a party formed which will take care that the site is settled, and settled soon, or demand to know the reason why. The matter must come up for consideration in all the States at the elections. In my judgment, it will be a very acute question in the State of Victoria. I hope that some means will be arrived at in my own State for making it an acute question there, and that a solid vote for the selection of the Capital by the next Parliament will come from New South Wales. The responsibility of securing a settlement of the question will have to be accepted by some party in this House. We cannot continue in this fashion very much longer. I protest against the statement which the Prime Minister has made this evening. I regret that he did not inform us of his real sentiments earlier in the debate. He has now declared that the question is not ripe for settlement. In other words he has been guilty of playing a trick upon the House by allowing time to be occupied in the consideration of business concerning which he now says that further inquiry is necessary.

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