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Wednesday, 20 July 1904

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I cannot agree with many of thesentiments expressed by the honorable and learned member for Wannon. I atn much more inclined to support the view of the Minister that the Constitution, especially in a matter between one State and the other States, should be carried out to the strict letter. I consider that a question of altering a provision in the Constitution, which represents a distinct agreement between one State and the other States of the Union, is quite distinct from a proposal to alter a provision which affects all States alike. If, for good reasons from its own stand-point, any Colony refused to enter into a federation - refused on the ground that joining the union would involve heavy taxation upon its people, and possibly the adoption of a fiscal policy to which it was opposed - and the other States then proposed, as a set-off against such disabilities, to give the hesitant State the honour, privilege, and pecuniary advantage - so far as there is any advantage; personally, I do not think much of it - of having the Federal Capital within its boundaries, it would be an extraordinary thing if the other States, after making such a bargain, should turn round and, among themselves, agree to vote the condition out of the Constitution, and so deceive the State which had entered the union under that specific agreement.

Mr King O'malley - The honorable member need have no fear upon that ground.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not entertain any fear. I am only answering the argument used by the honorable and learned member for Wannon. I wish it to be understood that, in the remarks which I am about to make - and I shall have occasion to refer to some statements which have appeared in the press - I do not wish to imply that either the people of Victoria, or the members of this Parliament, desire to commit any breach of the bond entered into with New South Wales. I know that a section of the people of Victoria, which is represented by a portion of the press, may entertain such an idea, but I believe that neither the people of that State as a whole, nor the people of the other States, contemplate such an injustice. I desire to point to the reasons which the people of New South Wales have for believing that something of the kind is intended by some Victorians. The following statement appeared in the Age when this matter was previously before Parliament : -

A divergence of opinion between the two Houses will secure a further opportunity for inquiry, and above all for delay. It will be impossible at this late period of the parliamentary session to adjust any disagreement between the two Houses, and this will insure just what ought to happen - that the selection of a Federal Capital shall be left to a future Parliament, one which will take a higher view of its duty in the matter than that which operates with the present New South Wales Opposition.

The article was written during the life of the last Parliament, and we are now in another Parliament. It continues:

In time, when we have broken down the unreasoning jealousy of the mother State, and when the Commonwealth is financially in a position to turn its thoughts to the establishment of a capital city, we may repeal the fettering conditions of the 125th section, and leave Parliament absolutely free, as it ought to be, to take the very best site available, wherever it may be found.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is what the amendment means.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not believe that the honorable member who has moved the amendment means anything of the kind, but his amendment would probably have that effect if it were carried. Here we have a great press organ advocating absolute repudiation of the agreement with New South Wales. The same newspaper, in its issue of to-day, publishes the following statement : -

There is a belief amongst members that New South Wales would not be averse to boxing up the Federal Capital area in a territorial trap, and cutting it off from free means of ingress and egress. For this reason there is a strong desire to have either the Murray River or Twofold Bay as the boundary of the Federal area. A territorial limit of 900 square miles in the centre of New South Wales would be the same as if a man were to give his friend one acre out of a 340 acre paddock, and were to fix it in the centre without any means of access.

There is an insinuation that ordinary consideration and fair play will not be given by the State of New South Wales to the Federal Government, if the capital is situated within its territory 'in such a place that it cannot be approached without entering the State of New South Wales. It is extraordinary that the Age, which is quite satisfied that we should be boxed up in a territorial trap in Victoria - as we are at present, according to its own line pf argument - for any length of time, should tell us that we must' not trust ourselves to the tender mercies of New South Wales. The case put by the Age is similar to that of a State Government objecting to erect its Parliament Houses within a municipality because of a f ear _ that the municipality might bar ingress' or' egress - just ' as if they could not trust the people whom they were to govern. The Age cannot recognise that we are not separate peoples, but are all people ' of the one Commonwealth, and that it is the Government of that people, which is seeking a site for its own buildings, for its own Departments, and a home for its own officials. Surely, arguments of that sort indicate that, at any rate, there are some who would make a breach of the condition in the Constitution, and who, though ready to trust their own State to deal fairly towards the Commonwealth, are not ready to trust any other State to deal with equal fairness. There is a further statement in the newspaper to which I refer, advocating trie resumption of a larger area of land than that provided for in the Constitution. But the writer objects to expenditure, and speaks pf the cost of the land. He says -

It has to be remembered that in any site chosen the Federal Government must absolutely purchase all the private land it requires at the valuation which that land bore last year. This might amount to some millions more, and the interest on that purchase money must be met before anything can be said about the profits of unearned increment.

The writer objects to the cost of the land, and gives that as one reason for not establishing the Federal Capital at the present time, while immediately afterwards he says that a much larger area than that provided for in the Constitution should be taken. I hold that, the provision in the Constitution is a protection to the interests, not only of New South Wales, but of the other States as well. There is no doubt, in my mind, that, if that provision had not been placed in the Constitution, the Federal Parliament would have commenced its sittings in Sydney, and would probably have remained there. The other States, however, are protected from the dominating influence of Sydney, by the condition that the Federal Capital shall not be situated within 100 miles of that city.

Sir John Quick - Quite right.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not say whether it is right or not; but it is a security for the interests of the other States. I have also noticed that, in certain quarters, attempts have been made to have the Federal Capital located as far away from Sydney as possible ; to place it on the borders of New South Wales, and, if possible, nearer to some other capital than to the capital of that State. I think that such action is reasonably regarded by the people of New South Wales as unfair, and in support of that belief, I will quote some of the statements which were made when the matter was being discussed in New South Wales prior to the acceptance of the draft Constitution by the people of that State. This is a statement as to the resolution which was passed by the Conference of Premiers in 1899 -

It is considered that the fixing of the site of the capital is. a question which might well be left to the Parliament to decide; but in view of the strong expression of opinion in relation to this matter in New South Wales, the Premiers have modified the clause so that, while the capital cannot be fixed at Sydney or in its neighbourhood, provision is made in .the Constitution for its establishment in New South Wales at a reasonable distance from that city. 6 b 2

The writer of the article in which that statement is published adds -

Victoria insisted upon two conditions : that it should not be within 100 miles of Sydney, and that Parliament should sit in Melbourne until it met at the seat of Government.

There is no doubt that an effort is now being made to do something which is quite opposed to the understanding then arrived at. The effort to which I refer has for its object the location of the Capital, not " at a reasonable distance from Sydney," but at a place as far away from Sydney as is possible. It is being made one- of the conditions of eligibility of a site that it shall be as distant from the capital of New South Wales as it can be. When this question was raised in New South Wales by those who opposed the acceptance of the draft Constitution by the people of that State, certain prominent men in Victoria replied to the objections of the leaders of the movement against the Bill. In the first place, let me quote what was published on the subject in the Argus -

The broad fact is that no English community is ever guilty of deliberate "treachery and deceit, and that in this instance the people of Victoria will be as the people in any of the Colonies would be, faithful in word and spirit to their bond. They will nol be allowed to break their compact, and they would not seek to do so if allowed.

I have already shown the spirit in which the Premiers framed the provision in the Constitution after passing a resolution which requires, first, that the Capital shall not be situated within 100 miles, of Sydney, and, secondly, that it shall be within a reasonable distance of Sydney. Then we have the statement of the right honorable member .for Balaclava, who, on behalf of Victoria, made the compact with New South Wales. He said -

I am perfectly certain that the representatives of Victoria won't attempt in any way to prevent the Federal Parliament fixing the site in New South Wales, an3 getting the necessary buildings erected at ah early stage in the Federation. No doubt the question will be submitted to Parliament during its first session and decided, providing that New South Wales is ready with the necessary area of land and several alternative sites. I am sure none of the Colonies will do anything unfair. We in this Colony have made a compact with New South Wales, and we are not going back on it.

That statement was quoted from one end of New South Wales to the other by those in favour of the Bill, as evidence of the intentention of the- people of Victoria to act fairly towards the provision in the Constitution. Then Mr., now Sir Alexander, Peacock, at a later date, said, when interviewed by a reporter of the Sydney Daily Telegraph -

There is an unaccountable impression in New South Wales that Victoria will keep the capital, once she has the Federal Parliament sitting in Melbourne. I assure you that no good ground whatever exists for such a belief...... The talk about 'Victoria intriguing with the Federal Parliament, plotting against New South Wales to have an alteration made in the Constitution -

That is the present proposal - or throwing difficulties in the way of the selection of a site, is utterly without foundation, utterly unjustifiable, and unworthy.

In answering the reporter's question as to whether Albury was the site likely to be chosen, he said -

Albury is too near to Melbourne, you know. A province of Melbourne. You might as well have the capital in Victoria as in Albury. Oh no, this is a serious business. Albury is impossible. We admit it.

New South Wales is prepared to carry out her part of the compact. She has not asked - although it would be a great advantage to Sydney, though I do not think an economy to the Commonwealth to have that city chosen as the site of the Capital - that the bond in the Constitution should bebroken for her benefit. She has not asked the other States to render up the security given to them by the provision in the Constitution that the Capital shall not be within too miles of Sydney. I admit from my "experience since I came to Melbourne that a State gains many political advantages by having the Federal Parliament sitting in its capital, but those advantages, although they are very great, have not been claimed by the people of New South Wales. All that they ask for is the fulfilment of the bargain in the Constitution. They say, " We are bearing a heavier burden of taxation consequent upon the adoption of Federation.' We have been taxed to the extent of millions since the Commonwealth was inaugurated. We have taken the risk" of the adoption of a fiscal policy obnoxious to the views of the majority' in the State, and we ask in return that the compact shall be fulfilled. We do not ask for more than is in the bond. We do not desire that Sydney shall be given an advantage over Melbourne, Adelaide, or Hobart, but that a site shall be selected for the Federal Capital which will be within reasonable distance of our metropolis, though beyond tha hundred miles limit, to which the repre- sentatives of every State will have to travel, so that the difficulties of attendance will be common to all, and the terms of the Constitution will be observed." Surely that is an honorable and straightforward request. The proposed alteration of the Constitution, whatever its object may be, means delay, and as I have shown by quoting the remarks of leading Victorians, it was not intended, in the first instance, that there should be delay, nor was delay expected by New South Wales. Not only would an alteration of the Constitution mean delay, but it might happen that the other States would destroy the bargain which induced the people of New South Wales to enter Federation, and would substitute for it something different. I think that honorable members must admit that the representatives of New South Wales in this House have not unduly pressed for a settlement of the Federal Capital question. Although there Has been delay, which has caused much irritation, and, although the statement of the right honorable member for Balaclava, which was largely used in New South Wales to remove the doubts of those WhO opposed fh: acceptance of the Constitution, was to the effect that the matter would be dealt with promptly, ana, in his opinion, decided in the first Parliament - -

Mr McDonald - So it should have been.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Although that promise has not been fulfilled, the representatives of New South Wales in this House have not unduly pressed for a settlement of the question. We have recognised that, while there is a section in Victoria, or at any rate in the Victorian press, determined to delay the settlement of this question, and, if necessary, destroy the understanding arrived at, the bulk of the people of the State, and the large majority of the members of the Federal Parliament, have no such intention, but there is a desire on their part to honorably and promptly carry into effect the provisions of trie Constitution. If we had thought differently, what would have been our duty? We should have said, " You are not fulfilling the conditions of the Constitution ; you are not carrying out the promises that were made by your public men. You are adopting this course deliberately. You have a wrong and an ulterior object in view; and it is the duty of the New South Wales members of this Parliament to see that no business is done until that wrong is remedied." That attitude has never been assumed ; but it would have to be assumed if it were considered that there were deliberate obstruction. It has never been considered that such is the case, and consequently that attitude has never been taken up by the representatives of New South Wales.

Mr Crouch - The Sydney Daily Telegraph is always taking up the position that Victoria is trying to obstruct the selection of the Capital.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That view is justified by the attitude of a section of the press in Victoria. No doubt the honorable and learned member for Corio heard what I read from the Age. That extract justifies the feeling that there is in Victoria a movement under strong auspices for breaking the Constitution, and for dishonouring the bond that was entered into.

Mr Mauger - The only feeling amongst the people of Victoria is that extravagance should not be indulged in, and that there should not be any great buildings constructed in the Capital.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I quite agree with the people of Victoria in that respect. I think that we ought to manage the finances in connexion with this business with the greatest care. We ought to incur the least possible expenditure.

Mr Mauger - When there is talk of the expenditure of millions, it naturally frightens people.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The smallest amount that can possibly meet the case should be expended. The New South Wales people have done their share. They have had to pay extra taxation in consequence of their entering into the Federal compact. They have had to find extra money month by month, and year by year, since the imposition of the Federal Tariff. The establishment of the Federal Capital in one of the existing large cities would not reduce proposed expenditure, but would increase it considerably. A thousand feet of land in a city like Sydney would possibly cost £.500,000; and of course 1,000 feet would be nothing like sufficient to meet requirements.

Mr Mauger - The buildings would cost far more than the land.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The buildings for Federal purposes, in a city like Sydney, would have to be of a character in keeping with the leading buildings already erected in the city.

Mr Mcwilliams - The buildings would not cost so much as railway communication with some of the sites.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The question of railway communication is one of the elements which will have to be considered in the selection of the Capital. I do not intend to discuss the sites themselves at this stage; but, evidently, one of the first and most important considerations is centrality. The Capital should be in a portion of the country where settlement is gravitating, and where there will be a tendency for population to gravitate in the future. It should not only be on a railway line, but, if possible, on a line which connects, or will connect, the different States, and be used as a main line. Water supply is, of course, an important factor, but I do not feel so strongly as do some honorable members upon the importance of natural features. It must be recollected that the 100-mile limit has disqualified some of the most beautiful, spots in New South Wales. If we go west, over the mountains, we are forced on to the plain areas. Of course we could go south, along the coast of New South Wales; but Commissioners, and te some extent also members of this House, have objected, for climatic reasons, to selecting a site near the coast, although, strange to say, some of those same members have suggested that Sydney, which is actually upon the coast, should be the site of the Capital. The coastal climate of New South Wales, for about eight months in the year, is perhaps as fine a climate as there is in Australia. I admit that for the remaining four months there is a humid heat which, some people object to. But when we are forced to choose a place 100 miles from Sydney, and we object to the climate of the southern coastlands, we are forced on to the plain country, where there is not the same amount of beautiful scenery as we find in the coastal regions. We must, however, remember that Australia is a new country, and that the beauties which wc admire in other lands are not always - indeed, are not often - due to purely natural features. Many of the most famous beauty spots have been the creation of centuries ; and many parts of New South Wales, which look very unpicturesque at the present time, will, in the course of a generation or two, become very different in character, and will possess some of those scenic beauties which are to be met with in older lands. For instance, take

England itself. I suppose that it would be possible to find thousands of splendid places for a Capital City in England. But' the natural features of that country - that is, ' the formation of the ground - are not grand, are not imposing, speaking generally. I think I am correct in saying that there is not a mountain in the British Isles over 5,000 feet in height. There are very fewmountains approaching that altitude. There are no great natural features in the shape of large rivers, such as there are in the United States. But cultivation, the growth of trees and hedges, the construction of buildings, and improvements made bv one generation here, and by another generation there, have created many of those beauty spots in England which most attract the visitor to that country. We in Australia can, by the same means, turn many situations which are now not at all picturesque into sites which years hence will display many of the beauties which have proved an attraction in older countries. Therefore, scenic beauties, and the presence of grand natural features, have not so much influence upon my mind as they seem to have upon the minds of many honorable members. And after all, we have to remember that we are a Federal Parliament, and that our public departments are created for business purposes - to perform important services for the community. The most important question is where that business can be most effectively performed in New South Wales. I do not wish to delay the House by further discussion upon this point. I merely desired to answer, in the first place, some of the statements which have appeared in a portion of the press, and also to point out the true position, which I do not think is altogether apprehended by those who are supporting the amendment. Undoubtedly it would be an advantage to New South Wales to place the capital of the Commonwealth in Sydnev. The ef-feet would be to bring the Federal Capital under the influence of the intense local atmosphere of the main city of that State. It would enable the New South Wales members to attend with greater facility than they can when Parliament meets at a greater distance. Many men, whose services cannot be obtained at the present time, would be enabled to enter the Federal Parliament. Consequently,^ the influence of New South Wales in the. counsels of the nation would be increased. But I can quite see that on the ground of fairness, the other States may object to that.

Mr Mcwilliams - I do not think that they will.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not object, as a New South Welshman, but I try to look at this question from the aspect of the other States, as well as from the aspect of New South Wales. I can quits see that the other States would have objections - reasonable objections - to New South Wales acquiring such influence permanently. Therefore, even in the interests of New South Wales, I am not prepared to support an alteration of the Constitution, such as that suggested. But I do hope that this House, this Parliament, and the States will prove - as I believe that they will - that any doubts as to their intentions in carrying out the bond in its strict integrity are not justified. I believe that if such a breach of honour were to be committed by this Commonwealth in its early days, it would go to show that a national life was being created, founded on dishonour, from which we could expect. very little good in the future.

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