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Wednesday, 20 July 1904

Mr ROBINSON (Wannon) - In seconding the amendment, I feel that the honorable member for Corangamite has correctly stated the reasonable view of the Federal compact, a view which, I think, ought to be accepted by most honorable members. The situation of the Capital was undoubtedly a consideration which largely influenced a portion of the electors of New South Wales in assenting to Federation. I take it that had the Federal Parliament been given the right to choose a site in any . portion of New South Wales, the majority for Federation in the State would have been larger - that the effect of limiting the choice, judging by a careful examination of the newspapers of the State at the time, had a prejudicial effect on the number of those who voted for Federation. The object of the amendment, as I understand it, is not to break faith with the people of New South Wales, but to give them and this Parliament a wider area of choice - to give New South Wales a greater privilege than that State now possesses under the Constitution - a larger concession. It is not out of place to offer some reasons why I believe it is in the interests of the whole Commonwealth that that larger concession should be given. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo interjected, when the honorable member for Corangamite was speaking, that the amendment was a giving away of Victorian rights. I cannot appreciate the force of that view, because I think the advantages of" a Federal Capital are very slight. When Federation was established, I was one who thought that it was an excellent stroke of business to have the temporary seat of Government fixed in Melbourne; but after three years' experience, I am convinced that there is not such advantage attaching to the compact as I then imagined. The people who have derived most advantage are the proprietors of the Grand Hotel and Menzies' Hotel, and some boarding-house keepers in the suburbs.

Mr Mahon - Do not forget the proprietors of the two large newspapers.

Mr ROBINSON - And the proprietors of the newspapers may also have received some advantage. The general expenditure of public money has been very slightly increased in Melbourne by reason of this city being the Seat of Government, and I am convinced that the people would not have been in a worse position than they now are if the Federal Parliament had met elsewhere. I do not think that the volume of business in Melbourne has increased, or that there has been any great increase in the value of property ; in short, I believe that if the Seat of Government had been elsewhere, quite as much business would have been done in Melbourne during the last three years. Therefore, I feel that in seconding the amendment I am not a party to the giving away of Victorian rights. All that Victoria has a right to expect, I understand, is that the Federal Parliament shall meet in Melbourne until the Capital site be selected, and buildings for its accommodation established. I support the amendment, on the ground that it will effect a great saving to the people of Victoria to do away with the idea of building a new city in the backblocks of New South Wales. Any man who has studied the various reports with which honorable members have been surfeited during the past six months, must recognise that the establishment of a Federal Capital will land the Commonwealth in the expenditure of millions of money. The various estimates which have been submitted, seem to me to have been put forward on the most swelledhead principles. Every scheme has been discussed as if the minimum population of the Federal Capital at its very initiation would be about 25,000, and upon the supposition that in a few years it would run up to 300,000 or 400,000. If we turn to the great Republic of the United States; what do we find in the city of Washington ? Admitting ' that it is the richest country in the world, and that its population has been increasing by leaps and bounds, and that it now numbers over 80,000,000 - notwithstanding these enormous advances it has taken over 100 years for the population of Washington to reach 250.000. Yet we have put before us in solemn earnestness estimates of how much it will cost to establish a Federal city for a population of 250,000. It seems to me that those estimates are a great waste of public money, that they are ridiculous in the extreme, and that we. cannot look forward to having a larger population than 15,000 or 20,000 in the Federal Capital for the next thirty years at least, and possibly not for fifty years. I ask honorable members to consider what are the sources on which we shall rely for a population in .the Federal Capital. The residents will' include the head officers of the various Departments and the Parliamentary staffs. The Customs officers will still be located in the Customs Houses at the big ports. The big staffs of the Post and Telegraph Department will still be located at the capital cities of the States. The bulk of the transferred officers will still remain in their present habitations, and only a fractional proportion of the public servants will be removed to the Capital - I venture to say not more than 5 per cent. Then, in connexion with Parliament, we have to look at the fact that honorable members will, meet there for not more than three or four, or five, months in the year. The Parliamentary staffs - I hope not, for their own sake - may have to exist in the Capital all through the year. Of course there will also be the necessary shopkeepers and traders to supply the residents with the necessaries of life, and one or two coffee-palaces or public-houses for the accommodation of honorable members.

Mr McWilliams - No public-houses.

Mr ROBINSON - It is suggested that we may have clubs - and possibly that would obviate the difficulty - as is done at Mildura. What elements will exist for the building up of a big city? What development of manufacturing, or agricultural, or mining industry will be assisted by the establishment of a Capital ? I cannot see that any new industry will be built up. I cannot see that the wealth of the country will be added to one iota by the expenditure of millions of money in this way. Therefore, the more of that money we can_ save the better it will be. The sole reason why I support the amendment is to save not only Victoria, but every other State in the Commonwealth from having its revenue depleted by such an unnecessary expenditure. The Minister in charge of the Bill told us that the expenditure on the Federal Capital should come out of revenue - a sound principle, I believe - but it must not be forgotten that every pound taken out of revenue means a pound less for the States to receive and a pound more to be raised by taxation from the people of the States. If £5,000,000 be spent on the Federal Capital during a term of ten years it means that £500,000 less per annum will be returned to the States. It means that the burden of taxation on the people of the States must be increased,, or else the weight of retrenchment, which has been very severely felt in Victoria in the past few years, will be increased. From every point of view the expenditure means a disadvantage to the citizens of the States. It will be much more sensible to keep that money in the pockets of the people. If the amendment be carried we can have the temporary Seat of Government in Sydney for the next quarter or half of a century. I, as a Victorian, am convinced that no great detriment to Victorian interests can result from adopting the proposal. In my election campaign I addressed meetings in forty-seven townships. At every township I advocated that the temporary Seat of Government should be transferred to New South Wales, foi the purpose of lessening and allaying the jealousy which exists between the two great States, and in no solitary instance did' I find- an elector who had an objection to raise to my proposal. On the contrary, I found a deepseated conviction that it would be to the advantage of the taxpayers of Victoria if we Victorians would give up- whatever rights we possess under the Constitution,, and let the Federal Parliament meet in Sydney. By doing so we should save a large expenditure of money and all the taxpayers of Victoria would be benefited. I have not yet heard, either through the press or any other source, of any disadvantage which would ensue to Victoria from the temporary Seat of Government being removed to New South Wales. It seems to me that a proposition which will save the expenditure of millions of money, and enable the first years of the Commonwealth Parliament to be marked by a due regard for economy, and by as much concern as possible for the convenience of the various States, ought to commend' itself to honorable members as an advantageous one. But, apart from those grounds, I feel that the proposition to establish the Federal Parliament in some out-of-the-way township is, from the stand-point of the purity of politics, one of the most dangerous propositions which have ever been suggested. Those honorable members, who have studied Mr.

Bryce's monumental work, The American Commonwealth, know that he lays it down clearly that one of the great causes of corruption in American politics has been the fact that the Legislatures of the States, and the Congress of the Republic, have met in back-block townships, and that the great organs of the press have not been able to fully present their doings to the people of the States, or to the people of the Republic.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable and learned member think that it would have been better if they had met in New York?

Mr ROBINSON - I certainly think that it would have been better if the Congress had met in New York. I also think that it would be better if the Legislature of New York met in the city of New York. From my study of American politics, I am convinced that the meeting of the Legislature of New York, in the city of Albany, many miles from the great centre of population in New York city, has led to corruption and to bad and wicked influences being felt in the legislative halls of the State. Any honorable member who takes an interest in municipal government or affairs of that kind -would do well to turn to the records of the meetings of the Legislature of Illinois - not at Chicago, the capital of that State in point of number and wealth, but at a small township. We find that in small townships the large capitalists who seek special privileges have been able, by log-rolling and bribing members, to gain advantages at the expense of' the rest of the community. As the Federal Parliament meets in a big city, the powerful organs of the press are able to expose daily to the public gaze the doings of honorable members. I know that sometimes the criticisms of the press hurt us. I suppose that I have as much right to complain as has any honorable member ; but we must look at this question from a broad point of view. It is to the advantage of the whole community that our doings should be laid bare to the people of the Commonwealth, : and that the fullest publicity should be given to the proceedings of Parliament. ; If the Parliament meet in a small town- ! ship, hundreds of miles from any big centre, where public opinion can be felt : only to a very small degree, we shall not secure proper scrutiny and publicity, and the result will be that wicked influences < will creep in. We shall create further opportunities for corrupt influences to undermine the moral fibre of honorable members, and bring about jobs which will be a disgrace to the Parliament of the day. That has been the universal experience of the States of the great Republic. Honorable members know that in the United States - I believe without exception - the State Legislature meets not at the real capital of tihe State, but at a smaller township, and, as Mr. Bryce points out, upon evidence which cannot be gainsaid, it has been found that the meeting of the States Legislatures in those small townships, far away from the influence of the press and the pressure of public opinion, has resulted in jobbery and corruption of all kinds. The lobbyist - the man who seeks special privileges at the expense of the whole community, the man who has an axe to grind, and is prepared to grease the palms of honorable members in order to fill his own pockets - has a far better chance to attain his end if he can do his work where there will be no publicity afforded to his doings. If he can operate in the bush, where the reports sent by the representatives of the newspapers to their head-quarters will be but scanty, then his opportunity will indeed be a golden one.

Mr McCay - They would not be very scanty if anv corruption were tried.

Mr ROBINSON - I am not so sure of that. It is much easier to cover such things up in a small out-of-the-way township than it is in a place where we have the full blast of public opinion about our ears day by day.

Mr McCay - In a small community thev become more easily known.

Mr ROBINSON - The small official atmosphere that there would be in a Federal Capital in the bush would make it all the more easy to cover up injustice and wickedness of every kind.

Mr McCay - Does the honorable and learned member think that an official atmosphere tends to correct those things?

Mr ROBINSON - I think that the official atmosphere in our Federal Capital will be very small, and that the few officials will not care to attack those who may be in power for the time being. I support this amendment, not only on the ground of economy, but also on the ground that I believe it will make for the purity of public life. I do not pose as an apologist for the press. Pressmen are well able to look after themselves, and I believe they do it very well from all we hear. However unpleasant it may be to us to have the press dictating to us at times, still it must be conceded that the publicity which it gives to our doings is in the highest degree beneficial to the people, that we cannot receive too much publicity and too much crossexamination concerning our acts.

Mr Tudor - Does the honorable and learned member think that the press is fair?

Mr ROBINSON - I do not say that the press is fair or unfair.

Mr Tudor - It is unfair.

Mr ROBINSON - People's opinions of fairness differ. Sometimes I think that the press is unfair to me, but I am quite sure that the writers of the paragraphs think that they are dealing with me generously. I am not objecting to that. It is in the highest degree desirable that we should all get at times a " dressing down " from the press.

Mr Batchelor - Who is objecting to the press?

Mr ROBINSON - I do not say that the honorable gentleman objects to the press, but I suggest that we cannot expect to receive adequate press criticism if the Federal Parliament is shifted from a big centre to a back-block township.

Mr McCay - We shall receive all the newspapers.

Mr ROBINSON - The reports of Parliamentary proceedings will be telegraphed, but in a big city there are always two, three, or four large newspapers which may be relied upon to keep a strict eye on what is going on in Parliament. It does not matter to me in what city Parliament meets so long as there is a powerful press ready to report and expose what is being done in the legislative halls. I advocate that the Parliament should meet in Sydney, because I believe that New South Wales has a moral claim upon us, apart from any provision in the Constitution. During . the Federal campaign I was one of those who travelled from town to town in Victoria, and stated that, in my humble judgment, New South Wales had a right. to expect that the Federal Capital would be established within her boundaries. What I now affirm, however, is that the temporary Seat of Government should be established in New South Wales, so that the vast expenditure contemplated in connexion with the establishment of the Federal Capital may be held over for some years, until our population has expanded, our resources have been developed, and the finances of the States have been placed upon a sounder footing. In the reports presented to us, I find that in some cases the expenditure of millions . is contemplated. I do not wish to discuss the merits of the respective sites, but I propose to mention them in order to indicate to honorable members the expenditure in which we shall be involved if any of them are chosen, as compared with the small outlay that will be incurred if we simply rent a few suitable buildings in Sydney. In connexion with the Bombala site, for instance, it is gravely proposed that a railway should be constructed from Bairnsdale to the Victorian border, and thence to Bombala and Cooma.

Mr Batchelor - By the Commonwealth Government?

Mr ROBINSON - I do not know who is to construct the lines, but some one would have to build them. Is the Government of Victoria to be called upon to build a most expensive railway, which would not pay for the axle grease - hardly for the matches that would be used in lighting "the engine fires? The lines proposed to be constructed in New South Wales would also entail a considerable outlay on the part of the State Government. That proposal appears to me to be unthinkable, and no State or States would be justified in incurring such an expenditure as would be involved.

Mr Spence - The construction of a railway from Cooma to Bombala has already been authorized.

Mr ROBINSON - It is very easy to induce members of Parliament to vote in favour of the construction of railways. Unfortunately log-rolling has been the curse of Australian politics. One honorable member says to another, " You vote for the railway that I want, and I shall support you in securing what you desire." I do not wish to disturb the equanimity of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro by making special reference to the site in which he is so deeply interested.

Mr Austin Chapman - I do not care what the honorable and learned member thinks - all I am concerned in is the way in which he intends to cast his vote.

Mr ROBINSON - I shall vote in -favour of the establishment of the Seat of Government at Sydney, and, failing that, at some plate as near to Sydney as possible. I believe that the closer to a large city we can establish the Seat of Government, and the more direct the influence exerted by public opinion and a- powerful press upon Parliament, the better it will be for the whole Commonwealth. I do not take the slightest notice of considerations of centrality, water power, climate, and other matters to which so much importance has beenattached in the reports which have been placed before us at such great cost. The chief question is : How can the public be best kept acquainted with the doings of Parliament; how can they best keep their eye on Parliament? If that can be best done by the Parliament meeting in Sydney, then by all means let us meet there, or at the best available place near that city. The proposal involves no sacrifice of Victorian rights. I am not aware of any doctrine of Victorian rights upon this question. I do not know that the meeting of the Federal Parliament in Melbourne has been attended with very much advantage to the people of that city. As I have said, the only benefit has been derived by a few hotelkeepers. In the next place, if the proposal be agreed to, the finances of the States will not be dislocated by expenditure upon buildings and other projects in connexion with the establishment of the Federal Capital. We shall insure economy, and, at the same time, safeguard the rights of the people in New South Wales. - Finally, the doings of the Federal Parliament will be more fully reported than if it were to meet in a small city in the back blocks, and the wide dissemination of knowledge as to Parliamentary doings will' afford the best safeguard against corrupt influences undermining the morality of the.Legislature.

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