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Tuesday, 26 July 1904

Mr BROWN (Canobolas) - To those honorable members who sat in the last Parliament the subject which is now engaging attention can scarcely be considered a new one. On that occasion the proposal which has been submitted by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, was debated at some length in view of the limited time which was then at our disposal. A considerable period was occupied in discussing the method of voting which should be adopted - time, which some honorable members, including myself, thought should have been devoted to debating the respective merits of the different sites. Consequently, the matter is by no means a new one. The present proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, though it varies slightly in detail, is practically upon all fours with that submitted by him when this matter was dealt with by the last Parliament, and the proposition of the Government is substantially that which was adopted on that occasion. The result of the experiment which we then made was reasonably satisfactory. By this process of elimination and re-voting, we reached a stage when the final decision lay between the selection of Tumut and Lyndhurst. In view of that experience, I submit that we are amply justified in adopting the same method on the present occasion, and consequently I shall vote against the amendment and support' the proposal of the Government. The question of the selection of districts opens up a very big matter, which also engaged our attention during the last Parliament. On the occasion referred to, I recollect that the honorable member for North Sydney was very desirous that a selection as between certain districts should first be made, rather than a selection as between particular sites. He submitted a proposal which might' well engage the attention of the House at the present time. He proposed that the several sites contained in any district should be voted upon, irrespective of those embraced by other districts, and that whatever site commanded the largest support should be regarded as the most eligible site in that particular district. He further proposed that a vote should subsequently be taken upon the merits of the various districts. The last Government decided to deal with this matter from the stand-point of sites, and not of districts. As a result, the reports which have been submitted to us by the expert Commissioners appointed for the purpose of thoroughly investigating this question have dealt largely with the question of sites. Up to the present time, the matter of the territory to be acquired by the Commonwealth has not been considered, except in an indirect way. The only information in our possession, having reference to the question of territory, is to be found in the original report of the late Mr. Oliver. That report .was supplied at the instance of the Government of New South Wales. In it Mr. Oliver did not confine himself to the question of the suitability of certain territory for the Federal Capital site, but also took into consideration the capability of the surrounding district to support the population of a city of that character. All other reports, however, have dealt merely with the question of sites. Whatever information we have regarding the territory with which we are now asked to deal is contained either in Mr. Oliver's report or in reports which do not pretend to deal with that question, but which only' refer to it incidentally. At the outset I join issue with the Government as to the preparation of these reports. I hold that we should first satisfy ourselves, from the opinions of experts, as to the suitability of the different territories, and that having done that, we should then discuss the merits of the sites.

Mr McDonald - Does the honorable member think that there would be sufficient experts left by that time?

Mr BROWN - I must confess that I am not too strongly enamoured of expertreports. After inspecting the different sites, I claim that the site which was recommended by the expert Commissioners, as standing first upon the list, was absolutely the worst from a building stand-point.

Mr McDonald - From all standpoints.

Mr BROWN - Pretty well from all stand-points. The information supplied to us, at the instance of the late Government, does not deal with the question of territory, or districts, but merely with certain sites within those districts. For example, take the sites which are embraced under the heading of " Southern district." 1 presume they will include what were previously known as the Tumut sites. In that district we have the Gadara site, which was recommended by the late Mr. Oliver ; the Lacmalac site, which was recommended strongly by the Commonwealth Commissioner; the Tumut site; the 'Batlow site; the Tooma site; and Welaregang site. In the selection of any district a vote may be cast which would not be unanimous regardingthe merits of any particular site within that district. Thus the selection of a site might mean the transfer of a considerable number of votes from particular districts. For instance, there are those who support the Gadara site, and who, as a result, will advocate the selection of the southern district. There are others who will advocate the selection of the Lacmalac, the Tumut, Batlow, Tooma, and Welaregang sites. If,- in the final selection, these particularly favoured sites are defeated, the probability is that, in the exercise of a second preference their advocates will favour either the Lyndhurst or the Dalgety site. That seems to me to raise a very intricate point in the selection of a site. Consequently, I prefer to act on the information which is contained in the reports which have been submitted to us, and to arrive at a decision in respect of the sites, especially as the question of territory, has not previously entered into consideration. Honorable members were invited by the Barton Administration, and later by the Deakin Government, to decide this question from that particular stand-point. The Bill which was introduced was merely intended to locate the site. We were informed that it would be followed by another measure, dealing with the question of the Federal territory. We were assured that that question would form the subject of further consideration, and of negotiation with the Government of NewSouth Wales, and would be dealt with in another Bill. I do not know what the present Government propose to do in this connexion. Apparently they have framed their Bill upon the basis which was laid down by the last Parliament. Whether they will adhere to it, or whether, like the late Government, they will turn round at the last moment and make it a measure for the selection of territory rather than of a site, remains to be seen. Apparently they propose to select territory, rather than a site, in the first instance. I claim that, in justice to ourselves, we ought to select a site, becausewe must necessarily rely to a very large extent upon the information which has been supplied to us in official reports. I should prefer that each site within the various districts should be voted upon, irrespective of the sites embraced in other territories. Whichever site in the southern, south-eastern, or western districts commands a majorityshould, I think, be regarded as the most: eligible site in that particular district. The merits of the various districts could bevoted upon in respect of those sites in the final ballot.

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