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Wednesday, 21 October 1903

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) (Minister for External Affairs) . - I shall only say, in reply to my right honorable friend, that he had to-day an answer to his question which no other honorable member would have received, because we should not have recognised that any one else had a right to ask for the policy of the Government in advance. We devoted much of the time of two Cabinet meetings to the work of shaping our policy ahead so that we could inform the honorable member of its general lines. The statement which the right honorable gentleman received tonight is as fair an indication as could be given to any one outside the Cabinet of the trend of those two prolonged discussions, to which, simply out of consideration for him, we devoted much of the time required for other matters. I do not resent the condemnation offered by the Opposition upon the action of the Government with reference to the Capital site. I recognise it as being part of the familiar campaign material which they are quite justified in accumulating, and I pass it by as such. But I have listened with amazement to the various versions of what I thought I had so simply and plainly stated a few moments ago, in regard to several points of this vexed question. For instance, I mentioned that I had not seen any of the sites. I made that remark not because of any desire to cast a reflection on the choice which had been made, but in order that I should not assume before the House an authority for my opinion which I did not possess. I had no other purpose in view than that of indicating in all fairness the basis of my judgment.

Mr Brown - But the Prime Minister was not guided by the expert Commissioners appointed by the Government.

Mr DEAKIN - Was any Government ever expected by reasonable men to be bound by the opinions of a body of men whom they had appointed to inquire into the physical features and geographical situations of particular sites 1 The Commissioners were appointed to collect the facts. They did so, and laid the facts before us in a series of tables, to which they did not endeavour to assign relative values. Some people, they said, would give first consideration to the question of accessibility, and others to the question of climate, while others again would give special consideration to the relation of a site to great centres and populous districts. They left us, as they were bound to do, perfectly free in respect to the value which we might attach to their judgment ; and, although it is perfectly true that, from their point of view, they placed Bombala in one sense at the bottom of the scale, they affected my judgment to a considerable extent when they lifted Tumut to a position which, in my opinion, it had not been justified in occupying before. My mind was affected by a perusal of their report, but not sufficiently to alter the opinion I had formed on reading Mr. Oliver's report and on hearing from him his justification of it. I certainly did not say or imply that' the question was not in a fit state for solution, so far as we had proposed to solve it. All that we proposed in the Bill was to select a district in which the site should be chosen. I was careful to say that, having selected the district, we should require to determine the precise spot in that locality at which to establish the Capital. That is a clear distinction. We have arrived at one of the agreements which we held out as being possible under the Bill. We have for a time at all events, reduced the territories, roughly speaking, to two.


Mr DEAKIN - If we are to commence to calculate votes we have reduced the number to three ; but by the decisive votes of each House the suggested districts have been reduced to two. No one has yet attempted to specifically say where in either of those localities the precise site of the capital should be. What we have been discussing have been questions which I endeavoured to persuade the House to brush aside - questions as to the area to be taken over, as to the rivers to which it should extend, and other extraneous matters. As I said before, having settled upon one district, what we shall require to do will be to cause an examination of that district to be made, with a view to the selection of the best site for the establishment of the Capital. We must also show a reasonable amount of territory which should surround it, so as to enable the application of the doctrine of the unearned increment to receive fair play. The question of accessibility and other considerations may also be considered. Until we choose the actual site of the Capital we do not know what territory we may desire to take over. "We may wish to acquire a considerable amount of territory, but we have to deal with physical conditions, and to consider the State and the people who will be called upon to hand over the required area. While I think that we have arrived at a stage - a long stage - on the journey that we have to take, I submit that we have not yet reached that stage at which it is possible for us to lay our fingers on the precise spot in either of these districts which would be best for the purposes of the Capital ; nor are we yet able to state in advance the precise shape or boundaries of the territory to be acquired. I have been actuated in this matter - and I have been able to be so actuated - with no sense of attachment to my colleagues. Had there been only one representative of the Cabinet interested in the question I might possibly have been drawn towards him. With two I have been perfectly impartial. I have determinedly resisted all influences of that kind both inside and outside this Chamber, and have formed my opinions as if I were the most independent member upon the back Opposition benches. I have looked at maps and plans, and read reports, had conversations with persons who have a knowledge of the sites, and have formed a judgment according to the best of my ability. I made my remarks on the subject to-night from that personal point of view. I spoke generally as to the intentions of the Government in the future ; but I wanted to be quite fair to the House, and to explain to honorable members the attitude I had taken, and why I thought that up to the present, and forborne time to come, we are pursuing the only course possible in refusing to treat this as a party matter. If I were sitting on the back Opposition bench, I should refuse to follow the leaders of the party on a question of this kind, and I should take the same position if I sat on the back Ministerial bench. Until we have reduced the number of sites to two or three-

Mr Kingston - So we have.

Mr DEAKIN - Practically we have, and in doing so we have approached closely to the stage when we can say, " This is the district in which the Federal Capital is to be built. The territory is to consist of such and such an area, and to have such and such a configuration." When we arrive at that stage the Government must make a definite proposal, and we shall not shrink from doing so. But, like others who have not visited the proposed sites, I have yet a great deal to learn in regard to them, either by a personal inspection, or by obtaining information from others. I have been -greatly swayed towards the Tumut site by the testimony of the honorable members for Kennedy and Darling, both of whom are practical and unprejudiced men, and able to base their judgment on many years' experience.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does not the Prime Minister think it fair to give further consideration to the Lyndhurst site?

Mr DEAKIN - None can refuse to give consideration to a site that has such marked advantages as Lyndhurst possesses.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the Prime Minister propose to consider a dozen sites ?

Mr DEAKIN - No. Such a proposition would undo all that has been done. Lyndhurst, however, is undoubtedly the next site after Tumut and Bombala. We have done a great deal in reducing the sites to two or three, and have educated ourselves in the process. We have arrived with all reasonable rapidity at the present stage. Because the question is one of immense complexity. If I could have done so, I would have taken a jump in regard to the selection of an area in order to get the question settled. That has failed for the moment If other honorable members, like myself, keep their minds open for the reception of fresh knowledge, they will be able to consider the question in an absolutely unbiased and fair manner:

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will the Prime Minister now. tell us what he intends to do?

Mr DEAKIN - The Government propose to continue their investigations. That does not mean that we shall appoint another Royal Commission. We have already had enough Royal Commissions. Any further inquiry should be undertaken by the officers of the Government. For the time being, we have -had sufficient investigation by experts and Commissioners. . They can do a great deal, but what they can do has been . excellently done, and we do not need to repeat the work. We have arrived now at a new stage.

Mr Brown - Does the Prime Minister propose to have an investigation made of the territory surrounding the three sites which have been mentioned?

Mr DEAKIN - I shall not make a definite promise of that kind, because the Cabinet has only commenced to consider details. An investigation will be made, but I cannot say now whether of two, three, or more sites. The debate upon the interesting subjectof the proposed transcontinental railway was brought to an end through the operation of a Standing Order before I had an opportunity to say what I wished to say upon the subject. I shall now endeavour to compress my remarks into a few words. I do not complain that the matter was brought forward. Its importance justified what was said in regard to it. I think, however, that the Government was not fairly dealt with by the honorable member for Perth, who opened the discussion. He appeared to forget important facte. The sympathies of the Minister for Home Affairs are with him so strongly that I think the Minister would rather see the Government treated with severity than lose an advantage for the project he so strongly advocates. It is not for want of hearing of the necessity for taking action in regard to the transcontinental railway that we listened to him so patiently to-night. To us it was a tale re-told for perhaps the fiftieth time. The honorable member for Perth also appeared to forget that it is not possible to construct this railway until we have received the authority of the two States through whose territory it would pass. Until within a month or two, even the Western Australian Act giving us the right to construct was not passed, and up to the presentno such Act has been passed by South Australia.

Mr Fowler - But a survey is a different matter.

Mr DEAKIN - A survey, unless it is to be followed by the construction of arailway, is meaningless and futile. If authority to construct the line is to be refused, or given with conditions which would make the construction unprofitable, and, perhaps, impossible, it will not be worth while to hurry a survey of the route.

Mr Fowler - Honorable members require information on the subject.

Mr DEAKIN - I do not wish, even by imputation, to make reflections upon any one. The correspondence which has been laid upon the table shows that the Government feel strongly upon this matter. In that correspondence a letter is to be found in which I have stated the case plainly, though I think there is not a word init to which exception can be taken by those to whom it is addressed. I leave it to them to justify to their State, and to the Commonwealth, the course which has been taken. But I assure the honorable member that there is more in the present situation than it is desirable to discuss at the present time. There has been no hesitation on the part of the Government in regard to this matter which has not been forced on us by the position in which we find ourselves. It may be that we are misjudging, but possibilities might arise out of a course which is sometimes indicated in the State of South Auscralia that would lead to very grave complications, if, indeed, the matter did not become of sufficient gravity torequire it to bebrought before this House. At the present time we have not yet reached that stage. The correspondence so far speaks for itself. I do not think that any one who reads it will be in doubt as to the wishes of the Government. It is plainly shown that there will be no delay on our part which is not created by the necessities of the situation. There were several other questions discussed during this debate, but they have for the moment escaped my memory, so I shall conclude by thanking honorable members for the manner in which they have assisted us. this evening to bring to a close a long, laborious, and fruitful Parliament.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 12.38 a.m. (Thursday).

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