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Wednesday, 21 October 1903

Mr THOMSON (North Sydney) - The reply given by the Prime Minister to my inquiry regarding the Federal Capital, and the remarks of the Minister for Trade and Customs, in stating that the members of the Opposition were raising this question simply for election purposes, and were cowardly in their statements, require an answer. So far as I am concerned, and I believe so far as most of the New South Wales members are concerned, this question has never been raised in a party spirit. Our whole desire has been to assist the Government, and not to block them in carrying out the proposals they have made for the selection of the Capital site. The majority of those who condemn them now are not members of the Opposition, but supporters of the Government, and the members of the Ministry itself are divided in the view they take of this matter. Before we commenced this inquiry, the report of Mr. Oliver was in the possession of this Parliament. But Ministers told us that that report was not sufficient, and that they must have a report from Inter-State experts. To-night the Prime Minister said that he was influenced in his decision by Mr. Oliver's report.

Mr Deakin - Not only his report ; I had the pleasure of seeing him personally.

Mr THOMSON - I am not reflecting upon Mr. Oliver's report, nor upon his honesty and ability. In spite of the fact that the experts appointed by the Government placed a certain site at the bottom of the list, four members of the Government voted in favour of it. Is not that an extraordinary condemnation of the action of the Government 1

Mr Kingston - Is there not a supplementary report by Mr. Oliver ?

Mr THOMSON - There is a supplementary report defending his previous report.

Sir William Lyne - And a very stupid document it was.

Mr THOMSON - I am now speaking of the action of the Government, and showing that a particular member of it falls back on Mr. Oliver's report, which was in possession of this Parliament before the inquiry by the experts commenced. At a later stage, Ministers decided that there should be an opportunity given to members of this Parliament to visit the sites. That opportunity was afforded.

Sir William Lyne -Not many members availed themselves of it.

Mr THOMSON - I visited the sites, although I did not avail myself of that opportunity. I would not come to any decision until I had seen them all. Yet, tonight, one reason given by the Prime Minister as to why the House was not in a position to decide upon the question, was that he and others had not visited the sites. We shall never be in a position to decide, if the neglect of some members to take advantage of opportunities is to constitute a reason for non-selection. Whether they go or not is their concern, but if they do not go they ought to consider themselves in a position to decide without going. The late Prime Minister and the present Minister for Trade and Customs were very careful to say to the people of New South Wales that they pledged the credit of the Government to push this matter to a conclusion as rapidly as possible,

Sir William Lyne - And the Government have done it.

Mr THOMSON - They said that it would be the business of the Government to push it to a conclusion. I do not say that they contended that the selection of a particular site was to be made a Government question, but they did say that the Government would be responsible for pushing the matter to a conclusion.

Sir William Lyne - And the Government have done that.

Mr THOMSON - It has not been brought to a conclusion in this Parliament. The Government merely brought in a Bill and consulted Parliament as to filling in a blank in it. They then sent the Bill on to the Senate, where the representatives of the Government took charge of it. That Bill was defeated by the Senate, who, I admit, were quite within their rights in defeating it. The only way for the Government to push it to a conclusion now is for them to take the responsibility in the next Parliament. But the Government absolutely refuse to say whether they will take the responsibility or not.

Mr Macdonald-Paterson - The same Government may not be in power then.

Mr THOMSON - This Government is not responsible for what another Government may do. I contend that the present Government ought to take the responsibility. As to the statement that these criticisms are being made for the sake of being reported in the newspapers, I reply that I do not expect to be reported at this time of night. The Minister has said several times before what he has said in his speech to-night. There was not a word in it that he has not repeated time after time. But I wish to know the future intentions of the Government. I recognise that we can do nothing now to alter what we have already done, irrespective of whether our action was right or wrong. Is it the intention of the Ministry to press this matter to a conclusion at an early period during the first session of the new Parliament, or shall we again be invited to go through the process of searching for a site, only to find at the prorogation that, owing to the inaction of the Government, no settlementhas been arrived at? Then I invite honorable members to look at the money which has been expended in this connexion. Has that expenditure been justified ? I do not make these remarks with a view to belittle Ministers: If I desired to do so, especially in the case of the Minister for Trade and Customs, I could speak very strongly. But I merely desire the Prime Minister to make some more complete announcement than he has already made upon this subject.

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