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Wednesday, 20 July 1904

Mr MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) - I rise to support the amendment. I wish immediately to say that I certainly am not doing so in any spirit of antagonism to New South Wales. If we endeavoured in any way to abrogate the bond without the consent of those interested, into which we have entered, it could be said of us, in the words of one of our most beautiful writers, that our " honour rooted in dishonour stood." But can any one take up the proceedings of the Federal Conventions, and read what was said about the Federal Capital, without being shocked at the miserable spirit of jealousy which prevailed? First of all, New South Wales said, " We will not enter into Federation unless you give us the Federal Capital within our territory. " Victoria said, " Very well ; we will give you the Federal Capital, but you must not have it near Sydney." I am aware, sir, that you have ruled - if I may say so, respectfully, very properly ruled - that we cannot now discuss the merits or- demerits of rival sites. But I may perhaps express the opinion that in the future Sydney will become the natural capital of Australia, no matter where we attempt to create an artificial capital.

Mr KING O'MALLEY (DARWIN, TASMANIA) - I think that Melbourne is sure to be the natural capital.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - In my opinion " the stars in their courses are fighting for Sisera " in this respect.

Mr King O'Malley - But the sun and the moon are fighting for Melbourne !

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I have not the slightest doubt that when the Panama Canal is finally open for traffic, Sydney will become the commercial capital of the southern hemisphere. But at this stage we have to consider whether the time is ripe for the people of Australia to launch into an expenditure of a very large sum of money on the erection of a Federal Capital. It is quite idle to talk of creating a Federal Capital in the bush at practically no expense. Are we to have a Parliament House of galvanized iron? Are honorable members to emulate the very laudable desire of the honorable member for Darwin, and live in tents? If we do intend to create a Federal Capital, it is a serious -question whether it would not be better to face the cost from the start, rather than have a lot of patch-work buildings. If it is intended to dump down in the bush a make-shift Parliament House and make-shift public offices, we shall be the laughing-stock of the whole of the civilized world, as Washington was for sixty years. Although Washington had been in existence as a Federal Capital foi that long period, or, certainly, for over fifty years, it was not until after the Civil War' that the United States capital ceased to be an object of ridicule for ali visitors and writers. In Ottawa, where the expenditure on public buildings has been over £2,000,000, the population is not much greater than that of Hobart. In the Dominion there is a population of about 6,000,000, and, although people are now pouring in at the rate of considerably over 1,000 per week, in Ottawa there are very little over 50,000.

Mr King O'Malley - That is because the land there is in the hands of private citizens, who are waiting for big pi ices.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I am afraid the idea of population and of comparatively, little expense being incurred is visionary, and it may lead the Commonwealth into an expenditure which will prove a veryserious handicap on the people of Australia.

Mr Mauger - It is the duty of Parliament to see that excessive expenditure does not occur.

Mr McWILLIAMS -It is the duty of Parliament to see that expenditure is kept down at the present time. I know that practically every member of this Parliament will say that there is no extravagance in connexion with the Federal Government or with Federal public life. The Treasurers of all the States are complaining that there 'is Federal extravagance - that 'the new cost of our public life, owing to Federation, is a very serious handicap on the States. I was exceedingly glad to hear the Minister of Home Affairs say that there is to be. no borrowing in connexion with the Federal Capital. Such an undertaking will, I hope, have the unanimous approval of this House. I am sure it will receive the general approval of the electors of the Commonwealth. But, unfortunately , owing to the financial arrangements between the Federal Government and the States Governments, it is the fact that while the Federal Treasurer has more money than he intends to spend, or has any desire to spend, every one of the States is in financial difficulties. Every penny that the Commonwealth takes out of the revenue that should be returned to the States is virtually additional taxation on the people.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - The States were all in financial difficulties prior to Federation.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - No, they were not. In my own little State, for the five years prior to Federation, we had a surplus of over ' £100,000 per annum, which, in the larger States, would mean proportionately a surplus of very nearly £1,000,000.

Mr King O'Malley - But what has been the increase of business with the other States since Federation?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - At any rate, we have the fact that since Federation the States have been pressed financially ; and the. first duty of the Federal Parliament, in relation to all proposals for expenditure, is to see that we do not expend one pound more than is absolutely necessary, seeing that the money must be taken out . of the pockets of the people who sent us here. Although we are not directly responsible to the people for the taxation, we are indirectly responsible, if, by any proposal of ours, we cause additional taxation to be imposed.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We must meet our promissory note.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I am quite prepared to meet our promissory note, and to go even further than would the honorable member for North Sydney. I am prepared to vote to-morrow for the Federal Capital being in Sydney - for the Federal Parliament to sit in Sydney until a Federal Capital is created. It cannot, therefore, be said that I am attempting to deprive New South Wales of any concession - that I wish to deprive that State of any right conferred by the Constitution.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - What would be the advantage of moving the seat of Government to Sydney?

Mr McWILLIAMS - The advantage would be that in close proximity to Sydney we could erect our Parliament and other public buildings, the cost of which, under the circumstances, would practically represent the whole expenditure on the Federal Capital.

Mr KING O'MALLEY (DARWIN, TASMANIA) - More would have to be paid for the ground in Sydney than would be required for 1,000,000 acres at Bombala.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am informed that the Government of New South Wales can make arrangements to give us sufficient land for our Parliament House and Public buildings.

Mr Webster - Where?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am not in a position to give localities, but I have been credibly informed that such is the case. It has never been seriously proposed, I think, that the Federal Government should buy property in the heart of Sydney and clear the land for the purpose of erecting Federal buildings. To do so would be the height of absurdity. We have been told to-day that the idea that a Federal Capital would cost millions exists only in theminds of those who do not wish to see the Capital created. It is not the fault of honorable members that they entertain that idea. If we take the reports of any of the officers who were appointed by past Federal Governments to make inquiry, we find that the cost will run into millions. The Minister of Home Affairs very rightly ridiculed the idea of spending £10,000 on a house for the Prime Minister, and large sums on residences for the other Ministers ; but if we consider the cost of water conservation, of laying out streets, and of providing railway communication, it is evident that, so far as some of the proposed sites are concerned, the expenditure must run into millions. One honorable member has said that railway communication is not a matter for the Federal Government, but is one for the State Government. On that I join issue with him immediately. I do not think that any State would be foolish enough to build a costly and useless railway - that is, useless from a State point of view - in order to connect the present system with the Federal Capital. In the first place, what traffic could be expected?

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - That all depends on what land is opened up.

Mr mcwilliams - There, again, I think that we are building far too much on the hope of revenue out of the land. The mere fact of taking land for Federal territory will not add one iota to its real value, which is exactly what can be got for it.

Mr Batchelor - The presence of population will add to the value.

Mr mcwilliams - An artificial value may be created ; but does the Minister really think that the factof dumping down in the bush buildings such as he proposes will create population? Do honorable members really think that leasehold instead of freehold, will induce, people to take the land, when freeholds may be obtained in other portions of the State? The whole history of the world, so far as the Anglo-Saxon race is concerned, proves that if population is to be encouraged to settle on the land, one thing above all others is necessary - absolute freehold.

Mr Austin Chapman - The land system of Britain has caused more wretchedness and misery than any other system.

Mr.Mcwilliams. -If we turn to

China, where there is land nationalization to a very great extent, or to India, where there is absolute land nationalization, we see a greater degree of poverty and wretchedness, and a lower state of civilization, than prevails in any other country where there is land ownership pure and simple.

Mr King O'malley - There is no land ownership by occupiers in London, an immense area of which 'is owned by the Duke of Westminster.

Mr mcwilliams - -Where there is an artificial value, such as may be created in a citv. it does not matter whether the system be leasehold or freehold. Does any honorable member propose to extend the Federal citv over the 900 square miles of territory ?

Mr King O'malley - The city will be in the centre, and there will be the unearned increment from the land outside.

Mr mcwilliams - I wish I had the beautiful faith that some of my honorable friends have in the revenue to be received from the Federal area. If I could believe what some of those honorable members, I am quite prepared to admit, honestly believe, namely, that the setting down of a Capital in the centre of this J and, especially the very modest Capital proposed, will give any enormous intrinsic value to the surrounding land for agricultural purposes, a great deal of my objection to the proposed expenditure would be removed. But when we settle down to hard facts and argue the matter out, can any one really believe that the few hundreds of population, at the very, outside, who will be on the area for some time to come, will add so enormously to the producing value of the land, that people will pay a high price merely to become tenants of the State?

Mr Batchelor - Nobody believes any such thing. It is a matter of time; we are not creating the Capital for a generation only.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Then the Minister must .admit that, during the life of the present generation, the expenditure on the Federal Capital will be a handicap on the taxpayers of the different States.

Mr Batchelor - I do not admit anything of the kind.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Unless there is some extraordinary system of finance, which, at present, has not been expounded, every penny spent on the Federal Capital will, in the absence of any return, have to be taken out of the taxpayers' pockets.

Mr Batchelor - But the revenue will have to be made up in any case. We cannot live on air, even if we do not establish a Capital.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I quite admit that. If we could put aside the beautiful visions in which some honorable members have indulged ; if we would only come down to hard fact, and say, "Let us erect our parliamentary and public buildings in a civilized community within direct reach of the people," then the expenditure would be a comparatively small one, and one which I believe the taxpayers of Australia are prepared to undertake.

Mr Webster - What would it cost for land, resumption in the place which the honorable member indicates?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - If, in the search for a suitable locality in the vicinity of a large town, we look a quarter of the care which has been taken in exploring the wilds of -Australia, 'planning gigantic waterworks, and estimating the cost of railways, we should secure a site with everything requisite, and well within the limit of our financial position. The erection of a Federal Capital is not a new undertaking. Certainly it is new to Australia, but it is not to other countries. I would ask honorable members, before giving a vote, to carry their minds back to what has occurred in Washington and Ottawa, and to what is occurring there to-day. Washington is supposed to be one of the most beautiful cities in i*he known world. But at what cost has it been created? For probably sixty years it remained dormant as a federal capital - a disgrace to the United States.

Mr Batchelor - What about Ottawa, which has been erected within a generation ?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Is the honorable gentleman prepared to propose an expenditure as large as that which has been incurred at Ottawa. Is he prepared to come down with a proposal to expend over £2,0005000 on the erection of public buildings in the Federal Capital ?

Mr Austin Chapman - How long was that expenditure spread over ?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - The chief expenditure was incurred on public buildings, and, speaking from memory, it was spread over not more than twenty years. Ottawa was a little village known as Bytown before it was selected for the Seat of Government. It could not be selected as the site of the Dominion Capital until after the North American Colonies had federated in 1867. But in that brief time, to make up a population of slightly over 50,000-

Mr Batchelor - Seventy thousand

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I think I am fairly accurate when I say that the population of Ottawa is about 50,000. Let it be remembered that it is the capital city of a Dominion with a population of 6,000,000, and that Australia is not in nearly so flourishing a condition as is Canada. Here the growth of population has practically ceased ; in fact, in some States - Victoria, to wit - there is practically no natural increase. Our trade is not nearly so large- as that of Canada if we consider the goods that pass over the border line into the United States. Probably the exports from Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide are greater than the exports from Montreal ; but in the United States, Canada has a neighbour with a population of 80,000,000, and there is an enormous interchange between the two countries. The population- of the Dominion is now increasing at the rate of over 1,000 per week. The latest returns are rather startling. The Salvation Army sent over 700 penniless persons, landing them with just sufficient money to enable them to comply with the Immigration Restriction Act, and within one week every one of those persons was in full employment. Can it be said that we can do anything like that in Australia?

Mr Cameron - Or would we do it if we could ?

Mr mcwilliams - i would if we had employment to offer. There is no comparison between the position of Canada to-day and that of Australia. Unfortunately for us, the Australian Colonies federated with an indebtedness of about £250,000,000, while the North American provinces federated practically free from indebtedness. The State debt of Canada to-day is a trifle, but the State debt of Australia is, per head of the population, by far the heaviest in the world. And now, before Federation has got well on its feet, it is deliberately proposed to incur an expenditure which must press very heavily, and particularly, upon some of the smaller States. Unquestionably, we have to look at these matters from different stand-points. It is very unfortunate, indeed, that in this Commonwealth one has to consider more particularly the interests of his own State. In the interests of the Federation, perhaps, we should all take a broad view, and consider the different States alike ; but it is only natural, and I think only proper, that an honorable member should express the opinion of the State with whose circumstances he is more directly intimate. I am reminded of the old eastern proverb about the different bowls - the glass bowl and the copper bowl - drifting down the stream. In a federation, the smaller States represent the glass bowl, because in all matters the smaller States suffer most, financially, for the reason that all their payments are on a smaller scale, and they have not resources to fall back upon, such as have the larger and richer States. The new expenditure on Federation is pressing heavily on some of the smaller States. Unfortunately those of us who are in direct communication with the local Governments, know that the States are compelled to impose on their people direct taxation of a very serious nature, in order to make good to them the cost of Federation. Therefore, it is only right for this House to stay its hand a little, and even to postpone some works which may not be immediately needed, until the States can put their financial house in order.

Mr KING O'MALLEY (DARWIN, TASMANIA) - Would it not be better for .the Commonwealth to help the weaker States, than to inaugurate a period of stagnation?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - The smaller States do not want any assistance in the direction which the honorable member suggests. There never shall be, if it can be stopped, any serious proposal made here to make a pauper of the State I represent. It is prepared to face the responsibilities of its position whatever they may be. If a proportion of the cost of this Federal Capital is forced upon the people of the State, I suppose that they will have to grin and bear it. If the House goes further, and authorizes a heavy railway expenditure, I presume again that the people of Tasmania will again have to grin and bear it. But I would submit to honorable members that it is not the true spirit of Federation that would force very serious financial difficulties on the weaker States. They have already made the greatest sacrifices in the interests of the Union.

Mi. Dugald Thomson. - All the States agreed to that.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Tasmania, with my consent, did not agree to join the Federation ; but I am prepared now to accept anything rather than go back on a bond which was deliberately entered into by the States. If the House in its wisdom - I must not say its unwisdom - deliberately decides to create a Federal Capital, to go into the wilds and erect even modest buildings, and to make very costly railway communications- in order to be in touch with the different States, it will become my duty to try to save every pound which I think ought not to be spent. But I urge honorable members to consider if it is not in the interests of New South Wales - if it is not in the interests of Australia as a whole. - that instead of authorizing a huge expenditure of money, from which the Minister of Home Affairs anticipates that no direct advantage will be obtained during the present generation at least-

Mr Austin Chapman - The Minister did not say that.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - The Minister, said, " Remember, we are building the Federal Capital for the future ; of course, we do not* . anticipate any great return from it during the present generation." In one sense, Ave all agree with him. In the meantime the financial pressure is felt. Some of the States are now subjected to that pressure; and if this idea of having a Federal Capital is carried out, the pressure will be increased. Is there any necessity for the immediate creation of a Capital ? Some honorable members say we shall get a healthier Federal spirit if we get into the bush, but I doubt that very' much. They seem to be exceedingly anxious to run away from the daily press. I think I said, in speaking to the Address-in-Reply, .that they are emulating the example of the ostrich, which puts its head in the sand and thinks it will escape the hunter.


Mr MCWILLIAMS - Thev will not run to any place inside Australia where the representatives of Victoria will not be under the direct influence of the Argus or Age. Does the honorable member think the representatives of New South Wales will care anything for the opinion of the TooralrooralGazette or Bombala Times? The public opinion of New South Wales will be expressed by the existing daily press, and that remark applies to other States. It is not because we sit in Melbourne that the daily press is exerting more influence than it would exercise elsewhere. What influence, for instance, has the daily press of Melbourne with the representatives of Queensland, or Western Australia, or other States? It is only the press of the State that influences their constituents that they care a straw about. If honorable members think that by going away into the bush they will escape the vigilance of the daily press, they are very much mistaken.

Mr Spence - Who has suggested any such thing?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - It has been stated more than once in this House that the influence of the daily press in Melbourne is creating a provincial feeling in the Federal Parliament; but I regard all such talk as sheer humbug. When the Seat of Government is permanently established, the daily press will exercise precisely the same power that it does to-day, except that, as has been pointed out by the honorable and learned member for Wannon, the personal influence of the press may not be so openly and freely exercised as at. present.- The people of Australia will derive a distinct advantage if we have a strong and powerful press, which can exercise a salutary influence upon Federal politics.

Mr Mauger - A good old pressman is talking.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I plead guilty to having been a pressman. I won my seat out of the reporters' gallery, and I am not ashamed to own it. The very newspaper upon which I was employed opposed me, and I did what I would earnestly advise all other honorable members to do, namely, I took my gruel as quietly as possible. The proposal to build a Federal Capital at the present time should not be seriously entertained. If it were not for the wretched .provision in the Constitution, of which none of those responsible for its inclusion are at all proud-

Mr Spence - Is the honorable member now censuring the leader of his party ?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - My ' leader can look after himself. Not one of those responsible for placing the provision relating to the Federal Capital in the Constitution are at all proud of it, because it stands as a monument of the antagonism which exists between New South Wales and Victoria. If Federation is to be attended with the beneficial results that have been predicted, the two largest States must set a good example to the other States by working more in unison than they have done in the past. If it were not for the provision in the Constitution, I have-not the slightest doubt that the Seat of Government would have been located either immediately in Sydney, or close to it.

Mr Batchelor - We should have had a perambulating Seat of Government.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - If a vote of the people of Australia were taken to-morrow, I have very little doubt that Sydney would be chosen. Owing to its position, its magnificent harbor, and the splendid territory behind it, Sydney must become the commercial capital of Australia.

Mr Batchelor - Is that any reason why it should be the Seat of Government ?

Mr Mcwilliams - Yes, it is. in my view, it is better to have one capital, instead of two. One of the great curses of Australia is that far too many pf our people are living in the cities.

Mr Batchelor - And yet the honorable member wants fo concentrate all the people in one city.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Nothing of ' the kind. My fear is, however, that if we build a Federal Capital upon any of the sites proposed, we shall probably , draw the population principally from the States capitals. If that were the result we should certainly not confer any advantage upon Australia. We should seek to draw population from outside the Commonwealth. I am apprehensive that a new Federal city would add another to the inducements to our young men, who ought to be producers, to leave the better and purer life of the country and settle down as hangers-on in the centres of population.

Mr Batchelor - But Sydney would offer still greater inducements than would the Federal Capital.

Mr mcwilliams - i do not think that the attractions of Sydney would be greatly added to by the establishment of the Seat of Government there. The fact that the Federal Parliament has met in Melbourne for the past four years has not had any appreciable influence upon the financial or commercial conditions of that city, and I do not suppose that the results would be any more marked if Sydney were chosen as the Seat of Government. By establishing the Federal Capital in the manner provided for under the Constitution, we shall simply create another bloodsucker, and impose further burdens upon the direct producers. I shall, therefore, vote for the amendment. If it is rejected, I shall assist honorable members in selecting the best site possible under the circumstances, and will try to guard against inflicting further oppressive burdens on the taxpayers.

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