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Wednesday, 20 July 1904

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) - Had this amendment been moved by a representative of New South Wales, I could readily have understood the cry about "keeping the bond." But, considering that the amendment has been proposed by one Victorian representative, supported by another Victorian representative, and also by a representative from Tasmania, I really do not see that it was incumbent on the honorable member for Darling to raise that cry. The bond was not sought by New South Wales, but exacted from that State; and, therefore, I cannot see that there is any force whatever in the cry at the present time. I should like to ask the honorable member for Darling this question - Is it not a general rule ' that people who enter into a bond may agree amongst themselves to cancel that bond ? If the right exists to make an agreement, there, is an equal right to cancel that agreement, if the parties to that agreement so wish

Mr Poynton - Does the honorable member apply that argument to the removal of the Federal Capital from New South Wales ?

Mr JOHNSON - I am speaking about a bond which has already been entered into, and, contending that if there Avas the right to make the bond, there is an equal right to cancel it, provided all the parties are agreeable.

Mr Poynton - Would the honorable and learned member be prepared to apply that argument to the choice of a Capital, altogether irrespective of New South Wales.

Mr JOHNSON - I should have been prepared to deal Avith that argument if it had been necessary to my point ; but I do not see that it is necessary at the present time. A great deal of stress has been laid on the fact that, according to the Constitution, an area of not less than 100 square miles must be granted for the Federal Territory. The honorable member for Darling pointed out the absurdity of even suggesting the possibility of Sydney being selected as the Capital while this provision remains in the Constitution ; but if it is permissible to alter the Constitution, in respect to the deletion of the 100-miles limit, it is also competent to alter the. Constitution' as to the exact area to be given.

Mr Spence - The amendment does not propose that alteration.

Mr Mcwilliams - It will form the subject of a subsequent amendment, if the present amendment be carried.

Mr JOHNSON -There is nothing to prevent such an alteration of the Constitution. But I agree Avith those honorable members who express the opinion that the 100-miles limit) should never have been provided for. That provision Avas a mistake ; but Are have now to accept the Constitution as it is, until it be altered. I was one who opposed the Constitution on each occasion, when it Avas submitted to the people of New South Wales. I saw. many defects which I thought it my duty to point out at various public meetings, along with other opponents of the Bill; and I fought as hard as I could against the acceptance of the Constitution. But we have to recognise that the people of New South Wales, with their eyes open, accepted the Constitution with those provisions.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And they gloried in the fact.

Mr JOHNSON - I do not go so far as to say that; but no doubt honorable members who advocated the Bill find room for satisfaction. I am speaking as one who conscientiously opposed the Constitution, which I conceived to be against the interests of New South Wales. No one more than myself would like to see the Constitution amended in the direction of enabling Sydney to be chosen as the Capital city - or any other area within the I00miles limit.

Mr Poynton - Or any other area within the Commonwealth?

Mr JOHNSON - I must stand up for New South Wales, but not merely because I happen to represent that State. If I represented a constituency in, say, Western Australia, the central idea by which I should be guided would be that New South Wales is the mother State, and that Sydney is destined by its geographical position, topographical features, and general surroundings to be the great distributing centre for the whole of the continent of. Australia.

Mr Poynton - The geographical position belongs to South Australia.

Mr JOHNSON - I am speaking of the geographical position of Sydney in relation to the,, commerce of the world, especially in the light of the new developments promised by the construction of the Panama Canal. It' does not matter where we place the Federal Capital, the prestige of Sydney, as the chief city of Australia, is fully established. The Panama Canal will shorten the distance from Europe and America to Australia to such a considerable extent as to make it a foregone conclusion that it will be the highway of commerce between Australia and the rest of the world, just as the Suez Canal is the highway between east and west. I should like to mention incidentally that in this connexion the strategic position of the New Hebrides group of islands in the Pacific is a question of grave significance to the future of Australia and British commerce on the Pacific Ocean, and their importance to Australia should not be overlooked in the consideration of this question. I am not in accord, however, with the mover of this amendment in his argument about the use of park lands in the neighbourhood of Sydney for the purposes of a Federal Capital. I hope that all lands which have been dedicated to the public for recreation purposes will be jealously guarded against appropriation to any other purpose. But if the 100miles limit were once repealed, I could call the attention of honorable members to an ideal place for the establishment of a city, perhaps one of the fairest sites in the whole world, and that is a site between George's River and Port Hacking River. To my mind, in all the vast areas in which we are asked to make a selection at the present time, there are not to be found any areas equal to those which are contained within the 100-miles limit. The area bounded by George's River on the one side, and Port Hacking River on the other, with its picturesque bays, its magnificent stretches of water, the beautiful undulating character of its conformation, and its contiguity to water and fuel, would certainly incline me, but for the knowledge of the certainty of the whole question being shelved, to give my adherence to the amendment. Although I opposed the acceptance of the Constitution as strongly as I could, still I should be one of the last to lightly agree to any attempt to alter one of its provisions until it has had a fair trial. I recognise that once we do make the attempt to alter the Constitution in any one direction - quite apart from the difficulties to be met-we shall open the way to its alteration in various other directions, of which we may not approve. If we adopt the plan of supporting the amendment, it will simply mean that the question of selecting an area for the Federal Capital will be hung up indefinitely, to the great prejudice of everybody concerned, and to the great inconvenience of not only the representatives of New South Wales, but the representatives of other States. There is a point which has caused me much perplexity ever since I read the Constitution, and that is in regard to the question of the Seat of Government. Section 125 reads in this way -

The Seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the Parliament, and shall be within territory which shall have been granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth.

In a note on the Seat of Government, in the Annotated Constitution, Quick and Garran say, at page 979 -

The phraseology of this section, and its involved grammatical construction, raise several difficult questions of interpretation. How is the Seat of Government to be. acquired by the Commonwealth ? What is the effect of its acquisition ? And what is to happen pending the determination of the Seat of Government? These and other questions must be answered ; though the obscurity of the section makes it impossible, in the absence of judicial interpretation, to answer them with absolute confidence.

Here is' one of those cases where, through an ambiguity of phraseology, even the most skilful legal minds are left in doubt as to the interpretation of a certain sentence or paragraph. I could easily understand that territory which is granted is intended to mean territory which is granted by the State ; but the section contains the words - territory which shall have been granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth.

I do not find in the Constitution any provisions which cover this point of the acquisition of territory. How is territory to be acquired? The Parliament of the Commonwealth may select, in New South Wales, certain territory with a desire to acquire it, and the State may refuse to grant it to us. In that case, can the Commonwealth, by force of arms if necessary, secure the territory ? That is a point which does not seem to be made clear in the Constitution ; yet it is one which I think should have been fully developed and explained so as to leave no doubt on the subject. Of course I do not anticipate that there will be any trouble of that kind. 13 ut still these are points which have to be considered beforehand, and involve possibilities and contingencies which, in my opinion, ought to have been provided for by specific .enactment. I very much regret to find that there is nothing definite as to what, is meant by the acquisition of territory. The only thing we can hope for is that, whatever territory may be decided upon by this Parliament, no objections to its acquisition will be raised.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Even if we should want to take half the State?

Mr JOHNSON - I shall not say that. I disagree entirely with the honorable member for Gwydir's remarks, which seemed to me to be somewhat in the nature of a threat against the State Parliament, if it did not agree to a demand which it could not have been expected to be called upon by the Com0 mon wealth to agree to. Certainly section 125 of the Constitution provides that the area of the site shall not be less than 100 square miles ; but I think that the spirit underlying that provision was that it should be somewhere near that area. If we make a demand for 900 square miles, we shall invite a great deal of opposition, which there is no necessity to provoke.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We might negotiate for that area, but it ought not to be mentioned in the Bill.

Mr JOHNSON - Certainly. I do not think that we ought to go to the Government of New South Wales, and with a pistol pointed at its head, say, " We shall have this large territory, or none." That is not the kind of spirit in which the Commonwealth Parliament should approach the State Parliament; but the ordinary rules of courtesy ought to be observed. I am hot by any means in accord with those honorable members who have spoken about using temporary structures in the' Federal Capital. My idea is that the best advice available should be taken. If possible there should be a conference of the most skilled architects and engineers to consider and devise a plan for the Federal city, or competitive designs invited at a suitable premium, in order to induce the best architects to compete. While I recognise that every attention should be paid to the development of such an important place as the Federal city, and that it should be our ultimate aim to make that city an example in architecture and every other respect to the whole world, of what a model city should be, and as showing what Australia is capable of doing - while I hold that that should be the central idea, I admit that it would be simply madness to attempt to erect the buildings at once. But whilst the general idea could be kept in view, such sections of a general plan could be carried out as would meet present requirements first, and others proceeded with as they became necessary from time to time. Every addition to the original structure would then be part and parcel of the whole plan. The principle would be the same as that on which so many magnificent cathedrals have been erected, and the buildings when completed would make a harmonious whole. I do not agree with the honorable member for Gwydir that the honorable member for Corangamite desires to promote delay in the consideration of this question. While I do not feel myself able to fall in with the idea of the amendment to the extent of giving it an unstinted support, still I am perfectly prepared to give its author full credit for sincerity of purpose. I feel quite satisfiedin my own mind that he was actuated by a desire to get rid of the spirit of provincialism, to economise in public expenditure, and to settle this question as early as possible by placing the Federal Capital in Sydney. I -feel sure that not only the mover of the amendment, but also its supporters, are actuated by those motives alone, and that nothing sinister underlies the amendment, as has been suggested. If we were to accept the amendment, it would mean that we should have to drop the consideration of the Bill, and the selection of the site would be hung up indefinitely. That is a result which I do not desire to see. Whilst I desire to see the . 100-miles limit abolished, I recognise that if we once commence to tamper with the Constitution attempts will be made to override it altogether. I am not prepared to risk any such possibility, and, although I have every sympathy with the idea which underlies the amendment, I cannot see my way clear to support it. I trust, however, that the consideration of this . question will not be marred by provincial jealousies or parochial sentiment, but that the broader ground of national sentiment will prevail, so that we may strive earnestly to secure a site chiefly on account of its suitability and accessibility, and which shall he worthy of the great future in store for the Commonwealth of Australia.

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