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Wednesday, 20 July 1904

Mr SPENCE (Darling) - The honorable member for Franklin has stated that he will vote for the amendment, but more than once during his address he assured us that he would not be a party to breaking the bond entered into between New South Wales and the other States. I cannot conceive how the honorable member can reconcile the two statements. It is provided in the Constitution that the Federal Capital shall be situated within New South Wales territory, not less than 100 miles from Sydney, and that the Federal area shall em- . brace at least 100 square miles. Those are the terms of the bond which the honorable member says he> is anxious to observe, and yet he proposes to vote for an amendmant which entirely ignores the agreement entered into. The people of New. South Wales are just as anxious as are those of the other States to observe the compact which is embodied in the Constitution. Some public men in New South Wales have, for party political purposes, talked very loudly about breaking away from the Federation, unless their views are, considered in connexion with the selection of the Capital site; but we need not pay very serious attention to such statements. The honorable member for Cor angamite proposes that the Constitution shall be altered by eliminating the provision with regard to the 100-mile limit, and he also contemplates that until the Capital site is selected, the Federal Parliament shall meet in either Sydney or Melbourne. He does not, however, propose to interfere with the provision in the Constitution, to the effect that the Federal territory shall embrace at least IOC square miles. The honorable member poses as an advocate, of economy, and yet he would practically commit us to the selection of a Federal Capital site, embracing 100 square miles, at or near Sydney. Does the honorable member realize that the purchase of 100 square miles near Sydney would involve a ruinous outlay? The honorable and learned member for Wannon has expressed an absolute disregard for all such considerations as water supply, and salubrity of climate. His sole concern is that the Federal Parliament shall be dominated by the press. He expects the daily newspapers to give to the public a complete account of everything we do, and to keep a vigilant eye upon the doings of honorable members, in order that the public may be safe-guarded against our engaging in swindles such as have occurred in other parts of the world. Honorable, members surely will not claim that the press fairly represents the doings of the members of this or any other Parliament. We should, at least, be satisfied that the reports of our proceedings published by the press will be fair and accurate before allowing any consideration for the newspapers to weigh with us. I recognise the need of a powerful press to inform the public as to the proceedings of Parliament, and in some degree to act as the people's watchdog. Although we are sometimes severely criticised in the newspapers, .the press is one of our modern institutions which we could not very well do without. It is, however, not correct to say that the public are well and correctly informed as to the doings of Parliament by any one particular newspaper. All newspapers boom the political party whose doctrines they favour, leaving it to the newspapers holding opposite views to boom the opposing party. It is only where there are newspapers representing both sets of views that the public, by reading both, can get a proper idea of what is going on. I would remind the honorable and learned member for Wannon that no matter where we go, whether to one of the proposed sites, or to a State capital, the position, so far as the press are concerned, will be much the same as it is now. No more space will be given to our proceedings than is given to them now. If we met in Sydney, the newspapers of that city would, no doubt, have the advantage which the Melbourne newspapers now possess, while the newspapers of Victoria, South Australia, and the other States would have to depend, as the newspapers of all other States but Victoria now depend, on messages telegraphed to them by special representatives. Therefore, the argument of the honorable and learned member in regard to the press seems to me to have neither weight nor application. The effect of passing the proposed amendment would be merely to leave the situation of the Capital an open question, though making possible its location in any part of New South Wales. The honorable member for Corangamite has argued that the Capital should be in Sydney ; but be must know that, if a site were chosen in or near to Sydney, a further amendment of the Constitution would be necessary, in order to strike out the provision which requires the Commonwealth to resume an area of 100 square miles, since it would be ruinous to try to secure such an area close to an existing capital.

Mr Wilson - I have mentioned that such an amendment of the Constitution would have to be made.

Mr SPENCE - It was not sufficient to mention it. The honorable member should have made provision for it, as a necessary corollary to his main proposal. He also argued in favour of making the Federal territory an area of less than 100 square miles ; but if that were done, the Commonwealth, by the expenditure of money in the erection of public buildings, would be merely adding to the value of the surrounding property.

Mr Wilson - Verv little.

Mr SPENCE - We all know how the value of property increases when adjoining property is improved; and the buildings which will be erected in the Federal Capital will be such as must greatly increase the value of surrounding property. Especially would that be so if the Capital were located near Sydney, because in such a position we could not erect buildings of the temporary character which might be thought sufficient for a country site. But if we resume the area proposed by the Government to be resumed, we shall receive a return for our expenditure in the improved value which will be given to the neighbouring land, and will thus benefit the people of the Commonwealth by saving them from a considerable amount of taxation, while the honorable member would hand over to private individuals the added value given to private property by Commonwealth expenditure. I do not think that the House will be deceived by the.amendment. Whatever its mover may intend, its effect would be to postpone the settlement of the question.

Mr Wilson - Not longer than it will be postponed if a bush site is chosen.

Mr SPENCE - If a referendum were taken immediately, the Commonwealth would be put to an expense of something like £45,000.

Mr Wilson - I propose that the referendum shall be taken at the next general elections.

Mr SPENCE - That ' would mean a delay of nearly three years, and we have already had. a delay of nearly four years, which makes seven altogether. At the end of that time it might be practically impossible to get a site selected. If honorable members art prepared to carry out the letter of the Constitution, and to keep the bargain which ha., been made, they will select a site as soon as possible. The honorable member for Corangamite suggests that Parliament should meet in Sydney until the permanent site be chosen. I presume that if, three years hence, the referendum showed the people to be favorable to our removal from Melbourne to Sydney, Parliament would continue to meet there for the next fifty years.

Mr Wilson - There would be no objection to that.

Mr SPENCE - If that happened, the question would be handed over for settlement to an altogether new generation of politicians. There are so many contradictions and so much weakness in the arguments of the honorable member, that I feel certain the House will give his amendment very short shrift, when a vote is taken upon it. The position is this : - We must, if we are to maintain the Constitution, select a site for the Federal Capital. The Constitution declares that there shall be a Federal Capital, that is, a Capital belonging to the Commonwealth, and not swallowed up in some big city. We should be unheard of if we met in the vicinity of Sydney. The people there would know more of the doings of the State Parliament. Those who have contended that, if any of the proposed sites were chosen, the Federal Capital would be buried in the bush, forget that if the Parliament met in Sydney, it would be buried in a great city. It is not in keeping with the dignity of this Parliament that we . should be hidden away in some big city like Melbourne or Sydney, and I am opposed on principle to having the Federal Capital in a big city. I think that we should be at a considerable distance from the present cities. I do not say whether it was or was not wise to provide in the Constitution that the Capital should be in a particular State. I am of opinion that if no such provision had been inserted, public feeling would have determined the location of the Capital in New South Wales. But the bargain having been made with the people of that State that the Federal Capital should be within its boundaries, it should be kept. Honorable members should- realize that, in allowing the settlement of this question to be continually deferred, they will not be acting fairly and Squarely .towards New South Wales. For more than five years past the Crown lands in the vicinity of the sites reported upon by Mr. Oliver as suitable for the location of the Federal Capital have been reserved from alienation. The honorable member for Corangamite proposes that the Government of New South Wales shall continue to keep this land put of use for another three years at least, leaving the people of that State in a simmer of expectation and uncertainty for probably another ten or twelve years. That would* be the effect of his amendment, if it were carried.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - It would mean repudiation.

Mr SPENCE - It would mean practically the repudiation, not only of the bargain made with New South Wales, but of the Constitution which the people of the Commonwealth adopted. It may be said that those who accepted the Constitution may alter it. No doubt that is so ; but no desire for alteration has been expressed. If we are to take the statements in the Victorian newspapers as an expression of public opinion in opposition to the selection of a site for the Federal Capital, that opinion is based on the most miserable provincial grounds. The Age, especially, deals with the question in the most narrow spirit. The articles published in that newspaper speak of the- probable expenditure upon ' the

Federal Capital as likely to amount to millions of pounds, although the writers of them know that it would be nothing like so large. Of course, when the people are told that the building of the Federal city will be so costly , as to necessitate the piling up of taxation upon them, they are ready to say, "We do not want a Federal Capital." The honorable member for Franklin has pleaded the cause of the smaller States, whose people, he says, are now overloaded with taxation ; but, as a matter of fact, the average taxation of the people of the Commonwealth is not higher now than it was prior to Federation. Then, we are asked to wait until the Governments of the States have a surplus : but does any one expect that if a State Government ever has a surplus it will not at once proceed to spend it ? Do we not know that Governments and Parliaments 'have a tendency to spend, all the money they get? The State of Victoria, that has been described as going down hill to ruin, has a surplus this year, and its Parliament is considering how it shall be spent. The various States will have time to economize before any taxation in connexion with the Federal Capital can be imposed upon them. They can save money in directions which have not yet been touched They might tackle the question of their second Chambers and their Governors; and they would find that there is plenty of room for economy in that and in other directions. My own opinion is that the taxation of the people will not be raised one penny. So far, the forecast of the effect of Federation in this respect has been proved to be correct - that is to say, that we could unite the Australian States under one Government without adding to the burdens of the people. I admit that there has been an increase of taxation in some of the States ; but, taking the average for Australia there has been no increase, and it has been clearly proved that we are maintaining the Departments which we have taken over more economically than the States did previously. That shows that we can be trusted, as a governing body, to consider the . interests of the taxpayers carefully in dealing with the Federal Capital. There is now in power a party which was the first to make a stand against the borrowing policy. In the last Parliament, this party prevented the late Government from floating a loan of ,£500,000. It was urged that it was " only a little loan," but we put a stop to it, and said, " Construct your public works out of revenue." Has the country suffered from that policy? There has been no delay in the construction of public works. Buildings have been put up where they were wanted, and we have proved that we can construct public works out of revenue. Any one who faces the facts need have no alarm that the Commonwealth is going to be extravagant, or to rush into any expenditure of an unseemly kind, or to be hasty in erecting elaborate buildings costing large sums of money. But it is our duty to be true to the trust that has been reposed in us, and to carry out the Constitution. We must have a place for the meeting of Parliament, and buildings for carrying on the administration of the Departments. At the present time we are meeting in a building belonging to the State of Victoria. We are here on sufferance. We are renting offices in Melbourne for Commonwealth purposes, and are paying .heavy rents for them. If we have buildings of our own, paid for out of revenue, we shall have to pay no interest on their construe tion.

Mr Wilson - But we must have regard to the interest on capital cost.

Mr SPENCE - The honorable member, and those who think with him, cannot get the idea of interest out of their heads. If the honorable member had saved up money, earned by his own labour, and built a home for himself out of it, he would recognise the importance of having no interest to pay. When we construct our buildings out of revenue we discharge ' the cost of construction immediately, and have no interest to pay. At the present time we are saddled with heavy rent charges. Some honorable members urge that we should locate the Capital in Sydney and erect buildings there. The cost of doing so would be enormous, as compared with the cost of erecting buildings in a Capital city of our- own. The appeal that has been made to us to delay the selection of the Capital is unfair to New South Wales. The people of that State have been waiting patiently. They have given us every facility. The croakers who are making statements in the press in favour of delay are simply doing so from reasons of party political bias. So far as I can learn the New South Wales people desire to be generous towards the Commonwealth. The noise that is made about New South Wales not being willing to grant to the Commonwealth a larger area than 100 square- miles does not represent the true feeling of the people of that State. It was surprising to me that the late head of the Government in New South Wales, Sir John See, should have expressed his disapproval of the granting of a larger area than that State is forced to grant under the Constitution. We do not desire to take land from New South Wales without paying compensation to those who now own the land that may be resumed. There is no desire to act unfairly to any one. But some persons in that State overlook' the fact that the expenditure of money .in that State, whether it be half-a-million 01 the millions that the honorable and learned member for Wannon has looming before his mind, will be of benefit to the people who live there. He supposes that

Ave shall construct buildings costing millions of money. No one dreams pf any such thing. Sir Edmund Barton's calculation was that £500,000 would suffice.

Mr Wilson - That is, every . year for ten years.

Mr SPENCE - No, £500,000 altogether, and that not necessarily spent in one year. It surprises me how .Sir John " See could have expressed such alarm with regard to the proposals of the Commonwealth Parliament. Let me put it in this way. Suppose that a capitalist - such as we hear so much of when the fiscal question arises, as going round with £1,000,000 in his pocket looking for a place to spend it - came to New South Wales, and said: " I want some territory ; I am going to spend a million pounds here." The people of New South Wales would be breaking their necks to give him the land he required. They would chase him all over the city, and say to him, "You can have whatever you like, because you are going to spend money in the country." But when the Federal Government, in the interests of the people of the Commonwealth, proposes to spend £500,000 out of revenue' to improve a certain district in New South Wales, an- alarm is raised, and it is represented as a serious thing that is going to ruin the country. Mr. Carruthers threatens secession from the Commonwealth, and seems to suggest the idea that we may have to call out the military to prevent civil war with New South Wales. Such talk is simply nonsense, and shows that there is still much prejudice on the part of certain persons in the States towards the Commonwealth. We ought to select the Capital site as soon as possible. Let us have the question settled in fairness to New South

Wales. The people of that State have been patient enough, and to talk of delaying the settlement for another seven years is manifestly unfair. It practically amounts to the repudiation of a bargain made. In our own Capital we should have our own building in which to do our own business, and should be established as the central governing body of Australia. I favour taking 900 square miles. After all, that is a very small area. The paddocks of some of the pastoralists in my electorate, are nearly as large as that. Some of the smallest of them are five miles across. A piece of territory, thirty miles each way, is not very extensive, and such an area is absolutely necessary to secure to the people of the Commonwealth that unearned increment which the improvements made will undoubtedly add to the value of the land. I presume that, when the area is located, friendly . negotiations will be entered into with the New South Wales Government for the acquisition of the land. Any Crown land over 100 square miles may well form the subject of negotiations. Then we shall have to put up buildings of a simple character. There is much more importance attaching to the idea of simplicity than some people think. I am an admirer of the artistic, but we are a young nation, andare not yet in a position to afford very elaborate buildings. We should not, for instance, erect a building like this, which is very handsome, though I do not think it has much of the utilitarian element about it. There are a great many rooms in the basement which are used for storing documents, but are not of much use for- any other purpose; though it has struck me that if ever we were engaged in war they would be very useful places for stabling cavalry horses. Simplicity in a democracy should always be- aimed at. We should consider simplicity combined with beauty. We do not require to waste money on buildings that are elaborate and showy. We must consider the utilitarian element, which seems to have been lost sight of in the noble building in which we are located. If we had to pay rent for the structure which we are now using, I do not think that some of our economists would favour remaining in Melbourne. We should have to pay a nice little sum, unfinished though the building is. We require merely to erect the necessary buildings for Public Offices and for parliamentary purposes. The honorable and learned member for Wannon assures us that not 5 per cent, of the Common- wealth offices will be within the Federal Territory. If that be so, the expenditure cannot be large. All other buildings would, be left to private enterprise. The remark may- seem to be a remarkable one for a Labour member to utter. But we have to stand up for old principles occasionally, because there is a tendency for honorable members in opposition to throw them overboard. The ownership of the land would be retained by the Federal Government; but it would be let out to private persons. Of course, we should have to frame regulations with regard to buildings within the Capital area, as is done in any other city. Some remarks have been made concerning railway connexion, involving an added cost to the Commonwealth. That will depend upon where the Capital is located. But the idea that the Commonwealth will be expected to construct a railway to connect its territory with State railways, supposing the territory not to be connected already, seems to me to be groundless. The Federal Territory will be isolated. We are not going to build a Chinese wall around it. Probably,, when the Capital is located, a person crossing a border from State terri.tory to Federal territory will not recognise anything to mark the dividing line. Nearlyall the areas which have been considered contain good land, and the New South Wales Government has either constructed or has projected lines to them. If the area selected contains no railway, there is no reason why the State should not extend railway communication to the border Evidently the State would get the benefit of trade with the Capital. Too much has been made of the idea of distinguishing between State territory and Commonwealth territory by those who have discussed the question, both in this House and outside. It seems to be assumed that we intend to Avail off the Federal Territory. People ought to realize that it is territory which will be owned by the people; that it will be the centre of the Commonwealth, where the governing power is exercised ; and that, in the future, especially if it has good surrounding country and is located some distance away from any existing large population, there will certainly be a city worthy of the name. All that will take time, and before the fifty years mentioned by the honorable member for Corangamite are over, I venture to say that a fine city will have developed in a natural way. And, as it develops, the income from the leasing of the land will be sufficient to meet the expenditure. It is an important point worthy of consideration that all added value from the improvements in the surrounding country, as well as from the improvements within the territory itself, will increase the rental return, which will mean so much less to be taken from the taxpayers. Under ordinary circumstances, such rental goes into the pockets of private individuals ; but in the case of the Federal Capital, the taxpayer will, to that extent, be relieved of the necessity to put his hand into his pocket. Surely that is a result worth achieving.; and not one to which the States ought to raise any objection. I am thoroughly- in accord with the sentiment expressed by the Minister of Home Affairs, when he deprecated any expenditure beyond that which will just meet our wants for some time. The buildings ought to be of an admittedly temporary character, but sufficient for the requirements of a young nation.

Mr Wilson - Of galvanized iron.

Mr SPENCE - No good is done by sneering remarks of that kind. A great many exceedingly worthy taxpayers have to live under galvanized iron roofs, which are sometimes unpleasantly close to their heads in hot weather. Wilful misrepresentations are made in the press, with the deliberate object of misleading the ordinary taxpayer, who relies too much on newspapers to chew up his mental food for him, instead of thinking for himself. I do not believe there is a member of the Federal Parliament who favours excessive expenditure on the Federal Capital ; on the contrary, I think there is a general agreement in favour of economy. I strongly urge the House to reject the amendment, and I hope it will do so in so emphatic- a way that the vote will be a clear repudiation of the idea that we desire to in any way depart from the provisions of the Constitution. We recognise that what has been termed a bargain has been made between two States, and we ought to recognise that bargain, and proceed to the selection of a site once and for all. There will be plenty to do afterwards, and that will cause delay enough to satisfy even those honorable members who support the amendment. 1 have seen no evidence of any desire on the part of Victorians to have the Seat of Government continued in Melbourne merely to suit their own convenience, and I have contradicted statements to that effect in New South Wales, and characterized them ' as most unfair. I believe the desire of Parlia ment is to carry out this provision of the Constitution within a reasonable time ; and hence it is that I am surprised that a Victorian member, who was not a member of the last Parliament, should submit a proposal the acceptance of which would practically mean a delay of many years. The honorable member for Corangamite did not say a word about extending any consideration to New South Wales ; he did not tell us whether he proposes that that State shall continue to reserve the various sites which have been inspected and reported on at considerable cost to the local Government, who have done everything they could reasonably be called upon to do to assist the Federal Government in this . matter. The New South Wales Government placed special trains at the disposal of members of the Federal Parliament in order that the sites might be inspected, supplied State officers to assist, and in other ways expended much time and money. It would be unfair to New South Wales to any longer delay a settlement. To postpone the selection for years would be a new departure, entirely out of keeping with the spirit shown by the last Parliament, the desire of which was to have the matter settled irrespective altogether of personal considerations. I hope we shall proceed at once to the selection of a site; and that Ave shall afterwards take care that there is no money wasted. We know that the financial condition of the poorer States is gradually improving. The change of Government in Queensland has made that State somewhat solvent for the first time; and as Labour Governments are now taking charge in Australia Ave may be sure that there will be prosperity in the future.

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