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Wednesday, 20 July 1904

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - From the Victorian point of view it would probably be popular to vote for any proposal which would have the effect of delaying the selection of a Capital site.

Mr Batchelor - Does the honorable member think that that is so?

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I believe that the people of Victoria are not anxious that the Seat of Government should be removed from this State.

Mr Mauger - Why should they be?

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - The people of Victoria, like people elsewhere, are probably a little selfish, and glad to get the advantages which the Federal Government and its services bring to the State. But, of course, Victorians, like the rest of Australians, have to recognise something more than their mere individual wishes; and I feel satisfied that if a poll were taken in . this State, there would be just as big a majority as would be found in any other State, for the keeping of the compact with New South Wales. Before Federation was accomplished, I felt it my duty to speak in Victoria and other States in support of the Constitution under which we now live. In addressing various meetings I said that there were a number of provisions in the Constitution to which I objected, but as there were so many other provisions which were worthy of support, we were bound to take the bad with the good. One of the mistakes of the Constitution was the provision in reference to the Federal Capita], but as the bargain has been made, it must be kept. I wonder what honorable members of the first Federal Parliament would have said if a Victorian member had proposed to excise, for example, the proviso which gave ' Western Australia the right to levy a special Tariff for a certain number of years. Thai was one of the provisions which, from my point of view, ought never to have been in the Constitution; yet, in order to get Federation, we had to concede that special Tariff just as we had to concede the Federal Capital to New South Wales. Those special provisions were objected to by myself and a number of other persons; but, having invited the people to vote for Federation, I conceive it to be my duty to see that all compacts are kept. New South Wales declined to federate unless the Capital were placed within the territory of that State, and that compact has to be kept just as we have kept the compact with Western Australia in regard to the Tariff. In those circumstances, the airy proposal put forward to alter or vary the Constitution fairly surprises me, coming from the special quarter it does. I have no doubt that the honorable member for Corangamite and his seconder will, a few days hence, when another proposal is put forward to alter the Constitution, be amongst those who will seriously condemn any interference. They will tell us that the Constitution is a matter not to be trifled with.

Mr Wilson - I condemned that proposal as I spoke.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - If the proposal for an alteration of the Constitution had come from the Labour Party, the hon orable member for Corangamite, and those who now support him, would have been most severe in their condemnation; yet in order to delay - possibly, honestly enough - the selection of a Federal Capital, they resort to the same expedient.

Mr Wilson - There will be no delay.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - The amendment cannot mean anything but delay, if it does not mean something worse, namely, repudiation. At the best, the amendment can only mean delay of a kind which will be far more irritating to the States concerned, and more particularly to New South Wales, than would any other proposal that could be made. When the honorable member for Corangamite talked about keeping the spirit of the compact, I could not possibly follow him. What does the honorable member, and those who think with him, mean by the "spirit of the compact ?" Are we keeping a compact when we break it up ? Do they propose to keep the compact by, if not destroying, at any rate varying it in such a way as to make it of no use? When those honorable members speak of the experiment of building a Capital in the back-blocks, the fact is that it would be an experiment to place the Capital anywhere else. The history of Federations shows that the" Capitals have always been distinctly removed from any of the existing large cities. There may be some little disadvantage in such a policy, but I am one who thinks that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and that eventually we shall be delighted to think that we took the step. I am surprised bv the statement made by the honorable and learned member for Wannon, that the location of the provisional Capital in Melbourne has been of no use to Victoria, and, indeed, that that State would have been better without it. Practically the whole of the new expenditure in connexion with the Commonwealth takes place in Melbourne. If there have been any advantages hitherto from Federation, Victoria has enjoyed those advantages. Is Victoria, therefore, to stand selfishly by, and, because she is reaping benefits, say to the other States, and particularly to New South Wales, " You shall never get any of the advantages which we pledged ourselves to give you " ? If the compact is to be kept in that "way, it is a pity that any compact was ever made. I repeat that, in my opinion, none of those bargains should have been made. Parliament should have had the right to select the Capital wherever it pleased, without restriction; but, having indorsed the compact, we are in duty bound to keep it. We are told, as an inducement to vote for the amendment, that it would be more economical to go to Sydney. Can any one prove to me, or to any sensible body of men, that we can get 100 square miles of territory in or around Sydney on a more economical basis than we could anywhere outside that < area? Or does any one mean to assert that the people of Sydney would surrender any portion of its public parks or reserves for this purpose ? Is it to be imagined, for instance, that the people of Australia as a whole would be satisfied to have its Seat of Government in a park in Sydney ? They have a nobler ideal before them than that. In any case, I am strongly of opinion that no land could be obtained in the neighbourhood of Sydney for anything like the sum at which it could be obtained elsewhere. To talk of economy in this particular, is idle nonsense. Economy ought to be practised, rather, along the lines indicated by the last speaker, although, perhaps, he did not make his meaning quite clear. For the rent .of premises for the conduct of our business we are paying large sums which we would not require to do to the same extent if we owned our own buildings. I do not deny that we should have to provide an interest account in respect of the capital cost. But what I contend is that the interest on the capital outlay in connexion -with an undertaking such as we have in prospect, would not be nearly so great as the cost of renting premises all over this city. We should not only save money, but we should save time and expense, and have greater conveniences. If a man has any business to do with one office, he has to go to the other end of the city ; if he has any business to do with another office, he has to come to this end of the city ; or if he- has any business to do with a third office, he has to go to some place in the northern portion of the city or elsewhere. All our alleged conveniences are far from being satisfactory. Our offices should be situated close together, and built in such a fashion as to facilitate and cheapen business rather than to add to its expense. I shall, however, be no supporter of a proposal which seems to be in favour in this House and elsewhere, for the erection of temporary buildings at, the Federal Capital. What we ought to do is to make provision, so far as it can be foreseen, for all possible requirements, and then build on those plans, and in accordance with our present needs.

Mr Batchelor - To build permanently in sections?

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Exactly. I shall not support the erection of any bark humpies, or galvanized iron structures, nor will, I trust, their construction be supported by any one in this House. A true economy in this particular would be to build our offices in sections as they are required, and in a complete fashion, so far as we go.

Mr Wilson - A million pounds for a Parliament House !

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I trust that whatever is .done the Parliament House will be worthy of the nation which we hope to see here same day. If the people of Victoria did not begrudge £800,000 for a Parliament House, unfinished as it is, for their State, I should say the people of Australia will not begrudge a million pounds for a Parliament House for the Commonwealth? The argument which has been most strongly in evidence here this afternoon has been that the States are too heavily taxed to warrant the erection of a Federal Capital now. It should be remembered that all the States knew when they were accepting the Constitution that it contained that provision. If they did not understand that it involved taxation, the fault was theirs ; for it was pointed out to them that the erection of the Capital and its maintenance would involve some expenditure. It is wrong, therefore, for any one to talk about our forcing a Federal Capital on the States. Either the States gladly accepted the Constitution containing this provision, with others, or they accepted it for other benefits which they thought the Federation would bring to them. The honorable and learned member for Wannon seems to imagine that, unless the Federal Parliament is located in a big- city, such as Melbourne or Sydney or Brisbane, some dreadful thing will happen to its members. He makes the bold assertion, that unless there is a press constantly watching over the actions of the members of the Federal Parliament, it will be in danger of degenerating into a corrupt and venal body, and of carrying on all sorts of vile, unconstitutional, or improper practices. How he has arrived at this conclusion I do not know, for it is to the credit of the Australian people that, with very few exceptions indeed, so far, its public men have occupied, and still occupy a very high position as regards their moral conduct in the carrying out of public affairs. I do not know that there is likely to be any change in that regard. If one can judge the public mind of Australia in the future by what it is at present, a very short shrift indeed will await the man who may dare to betray a trust. It is also to the credit of Australia' generally, that wherever any corrupt practice has been brought to light, the offender has been immediately sent to the right-about, and kept there in almost every instance. That is, I think, likely to continue to be a characteristic of the people. We have an alert, up-to-date, active, honest public; and, so long as the public retain those attributes, we shall have alert, up-to-date, active public men. -But to assert that Members of Parliament are more open to bribery than members of the press, is to make a statement which I .cannot accept. I do not know why the press should not be charged with the possibility of corruption as well as Members of Parliament. I do not know that the press are any more likely to withstand offers of bribes than Members of Parliament. But, so far as we know, the press of Australia has been just as free from corruption df this kind as have been our public men. That, too, is a very fine feature in connexion with the conduct of public affairs. It is true that in other portions of the world corrupt practices have been indulged in by public men. It is a standing disgrace to the United States that so many cases of bribery have been brought to light.

Mr King O'malley - It is not direct bribery. It is the hiring of men as lawyers in the States Parliaments..

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - It is a sort of bribery which would not be tolerated for twenty-four hours in Australia, I am happy to say.

Mr King O'Malley - It will be seen here if we are kept starving in this way.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - The conditions in America and Australia are essentially different. These allegations of bribery are not made in connexion with the Parliament of Canada.

Mr McDonald - Oh ! What about Sir John Macdonald and that crowd ?

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I have heard of an instance or two in Canada, but in the United States we are told it is a common practice. I could instance a case in Victoria, and there have been instances in other States; but, of course, those instances are not to be taken to indicate the common trend of politics in Australia as in the United States. In Australia we have a great deal to be thankful for in the conduct of our press and public men. I do not think it would make a tittle of difference whether we met in what is called a " bush capital " or in Sydney or Melbourne. Public men would still continue to do their duty without fear and without favour, and no sufficient reason has been shown for breaking or delaying the execution of this compact. Finally, I say, that though the Constitution contains many provisions to which I have objected, still, having from public platforms and elsewhere asked for its acceptance by my fellow-countrymen, I feel that I am in duty bound to vote for the second reading of this Bill.

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