Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 20 July 1904


Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) - I am very pleased to find in this House such a unanimous desire to proceed with the selection of the Capital site, with a view to the erection of the necessary buildings thereon. It was unfortunate to some degree that there was a limit put in the Con'stitution as to the location of' the Capital - not because I think it would have been wise to locate the Capital in Sydney dr anywhere immediately adjacent to that city, but because the insertion of that limit excluded many very eligible sites. For that reason I regretted that that part of the Constitution was adopted. It will be remembered that during the first referendum there was no talk of a distance limit in regard to the location of the- Federal Capital. But after that event-when New South Wales was not allowed to abide by majority rule - there came the question of making terms with Victoria, in order to induce the people of New South Wales) as it was alleged, to accept the Constitution. I have a clear recollection that "the Convention passed the Constitution without inserting in it any provision of this kind. In my opinion, it is not true to say that the people of New South Wales were not prepared to accept that Constitution unless such an addition were made as a guarantee that the Federal Capital would at least be within their territory, for they had already, by a majority, approved of the Constitution. I admit that the effort to secure the location of the Federal Capital in New South Wales was a clever piece of diplomatic tactics at the time. Of course, something has to be done when a change of leadership is imminent. It was partly because of a change of leadership and partly because it was necessary to run another flag to the top of the mast than the Braddon blot that we got the provision for the Federal Capital, which enabled certain persons to apply all their ability in urging on the people the importance of that concession, as against the all-important question which had been made the pivot of their addresses at the first referendum - that hideous thing called the Braddon blot. I presume' it is necessary at times in politics for men to adopt new arguments, but I remember quite clearly that that was one of the reasons why the distance limit was placed in section 125 of the Constitution. I do not think that any man in the House is inclined to interfere with the decision of the people in that regard. If so, is it not wise at this juncture for the House to pass the second reading of this Bill, and thus take one step forward in the direction of settling this very important question? If we are to abide by the compact made with the State of New South Wales, which was coaxed into the Federation, we should undoubtedly pass the second reading of the Bill, and proceed to select a site. There are many reasons why we should set about this at once. Some people declare that the Victorians are anxious to keep the Seat c.f Government in Melbourne as long as possible; but I do not think that they are so selfish as they are represented to be. It is only fair, however, to the representatives from other States that the Government should be established in its permanent home as soon as possible. At present they are placed at a great disadvantage compared with the ' representatives of Victoria. Honorable members who have to travel from their homes to Melbourne are feeling keenly the expenses which they have to incur. Not only have they to bear the cost of travelling and to incur a greater outlay upon living expenses, but they have to absent themselves from their businesses. The Victorian representatives are in a position to attend to their own affairs whilst they are not immediately engaged in discharging their legislative duties; but the position is different in the case of honorable members who have to leave their homes for long periods, and to either allow their businesses to take care of themselves or engage others to attend to them. Those who have attempted to attend to their private affairs, and to also conscientiously discharge their functions as representatives here, have utterly failed. The Victorian representatives should recognise that they have had a fair innings, and that some years must still elapse before the Seat of Government can be transferred to the Federal Capital, and they should be prepared out of consideration for their fellow members from other States to facilitate the selection of the site. I do not think that there has been any unnecessary delay up to the present. The matter of selecting a site for the Federal Capital of Australia is one of very great importance, and the time which has elapsed since it first became possible to devote attention to the question has been well spent in obtaining reports and making visits of inspection. I know that many people are under the impression that the visits paid by honorable members to the proposed sites were arranged in order to enable honorable members to pass a pleasant holiday; but I can testify that the tours of inspection were made under circumstances which involved great personal inconvenience. I regret that many honorable members have taken so little interest in this question that they' have not troubled themselves to inspect any of the sites. It will be impossible for any honorable member, who has failed to inspect the sites, or to read the reports presented to us, to give an intelligent vote.


Mr Austin Chapman - They plead that they have read 'the honorable member's letter, and that that is sufficient.


Mr WEBSTER - That may be some excuse, but it is not an adequate one for those honorable members who had done nothing prior to the publication of my letter. I know that my honorable friend is very much exercised about that document, but' I can assure him that I have only done that which I consider to be right, and that- 1 am very pleased to know that it has had the effect of awakening in the minds of some honorable members a certain amount of interest in the question, and has impressed upon them the necessity of making themselves acquainted with a site which had previously escaped their attention. I may say that the report which I have read this afternoon from the officer who was instructed to inspect the site referred to fully indorses every conclusion at which I arrived after a cursory examination of the locality. I do not wish, however, to be drawn into a discussion upon the merits of the respective sites. I promise the honorable member for Eden-Monaro that I shall not willingly misrepresent the facts relating to any of the sites. I do not think that we can be charged with undue delay if we do not arrive at a decision before the end of next week. I realize that the site which has been brought under our notice by the honorable member for Hume is one that merits inspection by honorable members, and believing, as I do, that it is the duty of honorable members' to obtain the fullest possible information with regard to all the sites suggested, I think that every facility should be offered to honorable members to pay the proposed visit. I believe that the sole object of the honorable member for Corangamite, in moving this amendment, is to cause delay. I fail to see how any other interpretation can be placed upon hia action. If the honorable member, as a Victorian, is not prepared to abide by the compact entered into between the right honorable member for Balaclava and the right honorable member foi' East Sydney in days gone by, and has no hesitation in repudiating the promises made to NewSouth Wales, I think that he will stand almost alone in this Parliament. I do not agree with those honorable members who advocate the erection of temporary buildings at the Federal Capital. I think that any buildings erected there should at least be of such a character that they will reflect credit upon the Commonwealth, and provide reasonably good accommodation for all those who will have to transact Government business. Furthermore, I am not in accord W kt those honorable members who object to borrowing money for the purpose of laying the foundations of the Federal city. How can it be pretended that we shall be able to provide out of revenue money sufficient even to make the most unpretentious beginning? Those honorable members who seek to tie the hands of the Government by preventing- them from borrowing money are practically imposing conditions which will render it impossible for the Seat of Government to be transferred to its permanent home for many years to come. It is not desirable that we should start the Federal Capital upon lines similar to those which have been followed in connexion with all our great Australian cities. We do not desire to see within the Federal area those features which have marked most of our settlements in their primitive stages. We could not contemplate with pleasure bark humpies or huts constructed of kerosene tins, such as may be found in interesting variety upon our mining fields and other places. We should take advantage of the experience gained in connexion with the foundation of our great cities, and proceed upon lines which will from, the outset make the Federal Capital a creditable home for the Parliament and administrative offices of the Commonwealth.


Mr Spence - It is better to have a bark humpy that has been paid for, than a palace that has not been paid for.


Mr WEBSTER - I think that that is an extreme view to take, and that it is not in accord with the reasonable attitude generallyadopted by my honorable friend. In the first place, we shall have to provide for an adequate water supply, for the installation of thorough lighting, and sanitary systems, and for the laying out of the city, before we proceed to erect the necessary buildings. Is it reasonable to suppose that we can perform even these preliminary works out of revenue within the next twenty years ? It is nonsense to talk about building the Federal Capital without borrowing money. If we look at the matter from a business stand-point, we must remember that the Commonwealth is paying a large sum of money every year to rent buildings in this city for the accommodation of the Federal Departments. It is true that we have the use of Parliament House free of charge, but that concession was made to the Commonwealth by Victoria in return for advantages which her people hoped to obtain from the meeting of the Federal Parliament in Melbourne. The honorable member for Bourke has referred to the advantages which the people of Melbourne obtain from the expenditure undertaken by the Commonwealth in this city ; but every representative of a Federal constituency is nevertheless grateful to the State of Victoria for the accommodation which he is permitted to enjoy here. But does not the honorable member for Melbourne Ports realize that it might be a very good business transaction to borrow money to erect Federal buildings, instead pf paying interest on rented buildings ?


Mr Mauger - I am opposed to borrowing altogether.


Mr WEBSTER - It seems to me that the honorable member is opposed to expedition in the settlement of the Capital site question. If he is against borrowing where a fair return could be obtained in excess of the saving of rent brought about, he is impaled .on the other horn of the dilemma, and must be regarded as opposed to proper provision being made for the accommodation of the Federal Parliament and officers. If he adopts this line of opposition to prevent a site for the Federal Capital being chosen, I mistrust him more than I do the honorable member for Corangamite, who directly advocates delay. When we hear the honorable member speak of the large amount which it will cost to construct a railway to give communication to any of the proposed sites which may be chosen, I ask if it is expected that we should walk to the Capital, carrying our "blueys" with us. Surely the honorable member must recognise that railways are necessary to enable us to get to the Federal Capital, and that to make these railways it will be necessary to borrow money. We are justified in borrowing for that purpose, if we can obtain a profitable return for our expenditure. I believe the honorable member for Corangamite has not seen any of the proposed sites.


Mr Wilson - No, but I know from reading the reports that none of the proposed railways, if constructed, would pay for the axle-grease used on the trains.


Mr WEBSTER - I do not understand how the honorable member can make a remark so discreditable to his intelligence, since he has not seen the country through which any of these railways would run. I have visited all the sites, and while I admit that some are better than others, I know that it would pay to construct a railway to any one of them. In one case in particular, to say that the expenditure of money to give the necessary railway communication would be unprofitable is absolutely untrue.


Mr Wilson - Is the honorable member in order in stating that I have said what is absolutely untrue?


Mr SPEAKER - If the honorable member for Gwydir made that remark, I ask him to withdraw it.


Mr WEBSTER - I withdraw what I said, and apologize to the honorable member for Corangamite, if he thinks that I meant to infer that he wilfully told an untruth. I did not mean to do anything of the kind. Perhaps I should say that if a railway were constructed to one particular site which I have in mind, the conclusion in regard to its paying capabilities which the honorable member stated would be shown to be quite the reverse of sound.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - To which site does the honorable member refer?


Mr WEBSTER - We are not allowed to discuss the merits of the various sites at this stage, and, therefore, I shall not answer the honorable member's question. Speaking generally, I say that in nearly every instance the construction of railways to give communication to the proposed sites would provide a good return on the money invested.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Commonwealth could not construct railways upon State territory.


Mr WEBSTER - No ; but the return would be profitable, by whatever authority these railways were constructed. I do not agree with those who are opposed to reasonable borrowing. It is always wise for the public, as well as for private individuals, to borrow money for the construction of works which will pay a good return upon its investment. If we got a good return for the money we borrowed, we should not be acting injudiciously in borrowing it. Whatever site we select, we must borrow -money before we can build upon it.


Mr Spence - Why? The Commonwealth has plenty of money.


Mr Bamford - There should be no more borrowing.


Mr WEBSTER - I shall not preach what I know to be impracticable, merely to please the public. I do not wish them to believe that the Federal Parliament can perform miracles, by erecting public buildings without money. What we have to see is that the money we borrow is wisely spent, and applied to a legitimate purpose, so that we shall get a good return from its investment. So far as the Federal Parliament House is concerned, I do not think it would be necessary to erect an elaborate building, such as that in which we now meet. I should like to see plans pre pared by a competent architect which would allow the building to be put up in sections, so that we could gradually increase our accommodation as our requirements expanded. I understand that the buildings in which we meet cost £800,000, and there is more wilful extravagance to the square, foot in them than I have seen in any other public building with which I am acquainted. This Parliament House is practically a collection of corridors, with a room here and there to join them together. One can see the very finest work hidden away in recesses where it is never noticed, so that the money which it cost is practically buried from sight. Bluestone has been cut and moulded at tremendous cost, and there is embellishment everywhere; though when one traverses the place from end to end, one becomes conscious of the monotony of the decoration, and the lack of architectural skill. Considering the amount of money expended, the people of

Victoria might have obtained, instead of the present building, a Parliament House which would have been solid and commodious, and at the same time architecturally beautiful. But what is to be expected twenty years hence from the plaster work on the walls of this building, forming panels, pilasters, cornices, flutings, and other decorations? One may expect that every bit of plaster will by that time have fallen, leaving the walls a monument to the incapacity of those who devised the mode of construction employed. As a builder, I say that it is deplorable to see plaster work which has cost so much preparing to leave the Avails. In some places the plaster has ceased to cling to the original foundation.


Mr Mauger - Where?


Mr WEBSTER - As one walks out of the chamber, if he sounds the walls he will get a hollow sound, as if from a plate hung against them. In a number of places the plaster is . cracked, and ready to lea.ve the Avails. At the time the Work left the builder's hands, and before it showed its present imperfections, it Avas at least a credit to the workmen who were responsible for it, though not to the architect who advised the use of such material. The architect engaged at such great cost to design this building should have known what was likely to happen. I hope that quite a different kind of building will be erected in the Federal Capital. . I do not wish to see £800,000 expended there in the construction of a Parliament House so ill-ventilated in the summer time that, after honorable members have been sitting in the chamber for two or three hours, the atmosphere will be so thick- that one could cut it Avith a knife.


Sir John Forrest - We are dealing now, not Avith the building of the Parliament House, but Avith the selection of a site for the Federal Capital.


Mr WEBSTER - The selection of the site is only a first step. We shall not select the site and then not proceed to build on it. The real question before us is whether it would be wise to choose a site and to erect upon it, for Federal purposes, buildings which will be a credit to the Commonwealth. I do not agree Avith the honorable members for Corangamite and Franklin that the construction of the Federal Capital will run the Governments of the States into debt. If Ave erect buildings of our own, Ave shall, by decreasing our ex penditure in rent, lessen the Burdens of the' States. The people accepted the Constitution knowing that its acceptance involved the building of a Federal Capital. The people must expect, if Ave are to have a Capital city, to have to provide the money for the purpose. How can they expect to escape their share of taxation? It is not logical at this time of day to say that Ave will not undertake to build a home for the Federal Parliament because it will involve some cost to the taxpayers of the smaller States. During the discussions upon the Commonwealth Bill I realized that some of the points referred to by the honorable member for Franklin were bound to arise. I admit that he has some justification for referring to them. I protested against the people accepting the Constitution. Having done so, I can say with perfect sincerity that I almost regret that they did" accept it, because now they are beginning to find that the results foretold by those who advised them to reject it, are coming' home to them. But what is the use of arguing that the Capital should be located in the vicinity of Sydney ? I do not think there is room for argument on the point. To resume even ten square miles for Commonwealth purposes in the neighbourhood of Sydney would involve a very heavy expenditure. I would far rather resume territory in a part of the country where Ave have a prospect of constructing railways, opening up new lands, inducing settlement, and furnishing homes and opportunities for our people. I would rather see new railways built in districts where there is a prospect of their being payable by reason of the productiveness of the land, than I would spend large sums of money in the vicinity of one of our present State capitals. Having selected the Capital site, undoubtedly Ave shall first have to consider the possibility of making railway communication Avith it. Next, Ave shall have to consider the design of the city and its surroundings. Then Ave shall have to make arrangements for its water supply, its sanitation, its lighting, and other services. Finally, Ave shall have to make arrangements for the erection of the necessary buildings. Yesterday an appeal Avas made to the Government to afford relief to the unemployed in the shape of public works. The various works that will be necessary in connexion Avith the Capital will afford one means by which Ave, as a Parliament, without reverting to the Tariff, can make some provision for the unemployed.


Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - How would the honorable member obtain the money for building railways?


Mr WEBSTER - From the same source as we have obtained money for building railways in the States. Does not the honorable member know that the security of the Commonwealth in matters of this kind would be of the best?


Mr Mcwilliams - But the Minister tells us that we should not borrow the money.


Mr WEBSTER - I do not intend to be bound by what any Minister has said. I have been sent to this Parliament because Providence has endowed me with sufficient common sense to form my own opinions, and regulate my own actions. I am quite prepared, when my own experience is not sufficient, to avail myself of the experience of others who know more than I do. I am always ready to sit at the feet of any man who can teach me anything ; but, having determined what is practical and advisable, I am not going to be guided by any Minister in making statements that cannot, in my opinion, be fully carried out.


Mr Mcwilliams - Then the honorable member proposes to borrow the money ?


Mr WEBSTER - I- propose to borrow the money where there is a prospect of a return. In my opinion, railways constructed through such country as we should select for the purposes of the Federal Capital, which would open up the land and tend to settle the people upon it, would be amongst the best paying works rhat the Cammonwealih could undertake.


Mr Mauger - Does the honorable member know of any money that was ever borrowed which it was said would not provide a return?


Mr WEBSTER - Yes, I know of many cases, in all the States, where money was borrowed, when persons in authority, who were best able to judge, stated that the result would simply be to place a " white elephant" on the Treasury- for all time.


Mr Mcwilliams - That is what we are saying now.


Mr WEBSTER - I have not said that I am prepared to do that in connexion with the Federal Capital. I am prepared to borrow money where there is a guarantee that there will be a return, providing interest and sinking fund, from the expenditure.


Mr Mauger - Who is to give the guarantee ?


Mr WEBSTER - It will be given by officers who are best able to judge of the possibilities of the work. Failing that, we might call upon the honorable member for Melbourne Ports to give us the guarantee.


Mr Mauger - It would be about as valuable.


Mr WEBSTER - As a Federal Parliament, we must do what the States Parliaments have had to do - be guided by expert evidence, furnished by men who have spent a lifetime in studying particular work and spending Government money.


Mr Mauger - I always view the reports of such experts with the greatest suspicion.


Mr WEBSTER - It is all very well for the honorable member to view such evidence in the way that suits his purpose, but I am quite certain that money spent on such a railway as I contemplate would provide work for men engaged in legitimate occupations - artisans, railway men, navvies, and mechanics, whilst at the same time it would open up opportunities for the settlement of the people, and for increasing the production of the country. I must say that I doubt the sincerity of any man who says that he is willing to construct the Federal Capital, but is not prepared to borrow money for any works connected with it.


Mr Mcwilliams - Would the honorable member borrow money in order to find work to relieve the depression caused by the present over-borrowing ?


Mr WEBSTER - I would borrow money only where I was sure that by means of it I could provide work that would be profitable to the men engaged in it and profitable to the Government that employed them. That is what I mean. I do not wish the honorable member to misunderstand me. He has got himself into a peculiar position by saying that he desires to carry out the Federal compact with New South Wales, whilst at the same time he is prepared to break it. I do not wish him to get into further difficulties by misunderstanding ray meaning. I am always prepared to indicate what I am willing to do quite independently of anything that may have been said either bv a Minister or by a colleague on my own side of the House. Before a site is definitely selected, I hope to say a word or two about it. The question certainly is a most important one. It will have to be settled only once in the history of Australia. The site once determined upon, it will be of no use complaining that a mistake has been made. It will be of no use to say, as has been said in the course of this debate, that it' is a pity that a clause was inserted in the Constitution which limited the allocation of the Federal Capital to an area at least I00 miles from Sydney. I do not want to have any regrets, so far as my action is concerned, after the site is chosen. I hope that every honorable member who has the interests of the Commonwealth at heart will read the reports or visit the sites, and go into the merits of the relative localities for himself, so that he may know that so far as his vote is concerned, he is helping to choose the best possible position. I trust that we shall be able to decide upon it without any considerations of parochialism affecting the issue. I trust it will not be settled because we wish to have a site near to some railway, or in some honorable member's electorate. It should be decided broadly, and upon strictly Federal lines, in the knowledge that in a few. years io come all the parochial jealousies which now tend to disturb our judgment will have passed away. Let us act in accordance with the' Federal spirit that was referred to so eloquently by the leader of the Opposition when he was appealing to the New South Wales people to come under the Federal Constitution, and by the head of the late Government, when he appealed to the people of Australia in his own eloquent style, inviting them to accept the Commonwealth Bill. I remember sitting in my place in the New South Wales Assembly, and listening, to a discussion upon the action of the last Federal Parliament in reference to the enlarged area which it was desired to take for Federal Capital purposes. . Member after member rose in protest against the large area that was asked for. But I can assure the House that when this question is brought to an issue, so that the alternative is as to whether New South Wales will give us the territory that we ask for, or remain without having the Capital within the borders of that State, thev will soon see the wisdom of acquiescing in the proposals of this Parliament. Here Ave have the game of politics played in the way Ave used to see it played bv oldtime politicians. We have the Premier of New South Wales pleading Avith the Federal Parliament not to decide the question until after the elections. I remember the Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, appealing to Sir John See, Premier . of New South Wales, to assist the Federal Parliament in coming to some conclusion: and Ave know that, from time to time, in the New South Wales Parliament, the matter Avas burked and set aside. Now. at this time, when we are about to decide the question, Ave have this appeal by the Premier of New South Wales to delay the matter until after the general elections - that is, until he comes back Avith a majority, to do what? The Premier of New South Wales has stated publicly that his intention is to recommend Garland-Carcoar as the site which the Government of that State are prepared to hand over to the Commonwealth. This is playing the game top low on the part of a man in the responsible position of Premier of the mother State. I say, without fear of contradiction, that the Garland-Carcoar site is closely adjacent to the Premier's own electorate, and he is endeavouring to make a little political capital out of the circumstance, ' in the hope that it may be to his advantage on polling day. The Premier of New South Wales does not show a true Federal spirit when he talks of selecting a site against the wishes of the members of this Parliament, whose duty it is to decide the question. He does this, not sincerely, but merely as a piece of political claptrap, for the purpose of pandering to the electors, whose votes he wants ; and I should have no hesitation in telling him so if I were alongside him on a platform, even in his own electorate. What guarantee have we that this matter will be fairly dealt Avith if Ave do w ait for the new Parliament in New South Wales? If the Premier of that State is returned Avith any force behind him. it naturally follows that he will exercise a certain sway in the local Parliament .; and his action will have the effect of harassing the Commonwealth Parliament and Govern-' ment in trying to arrive at an honest conclusion on this important question. I have another appeal to make. I have heard several honorable members say that they have never visited any of the proposed Capital sites, and I am rather surprised to find that most of those honorable members represent Victorian constituencies. Other members are favorable to one site, because they think they will be able to proceed to Eden by boat ; but I do not Avant to see an important question like this decided on such grounds. We know that, in this Chamber there are men not actuated by a broad, comprehensive view or knowledge of the various sites, but by parochial influences which should find no place in a Federal Parliament. Because of this I ask honorable members, if they have not seen the sites, at least to endeavour to visit as many sites as they can before the day comes to finally decide the matter. If 'honorable members cannot find time to pay any visits of inspection, they ought to read the reports of trusted officers. When we decide this question, as I trust we shall do next week, once for all', I hope our conclusion will be such as will redound to the

Credit of this Parliament, and be of lasting benefit to the Commonwealth. When Ave have decided on the site, I shall be prepared, as I said before, to go forward and make a home for this Parliament as early as possible, so that Ave shall not, as now, have to travel long distances in order to visit our homes for a few hours each week, but may have an opportunity to enjoy some domestic comfort.


Sir John Forrest - What about other honorable members besides those from

New South Wales ?







Suggest corrections