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Tuesday, 26 July 1904

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) - I must confess that I do not understand the suggestion of possible unfairness in giving a vote on so open a matter as the selection of a site for the Seat of Government. I shall be guided by no other consideration than that of what, in my opinion, is best in the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole. I shall not be guided by any parochial or provincial considerations, and I sincerely trust that in the settlement of a national question honorable members will not. I do not see that we can obtain any good result by voting for the amendment of the honorable member for Gwydir, because it would leave us in just as bad a condition as we should otherwise have been in. I can see that there, are grave objections to the first proposal of the Government, and I am very glad to find that they have shown themselves to be so readily amenable to a reasonable suggestion, and evinced what I believe to be a sincere desire to approach the settlement of this question in a fair, honorable, and straightforward spirit, irrespective of all considerations of parties. For it must be remembered that this is not a party question, and it should not in any sense be sought to be made one. I think that the last proposal of the Government - to reduce the number of sites in each district to one - is a fair and legitimate method of arriving at a speedy conclusion on this question, which I hope every one is desirous of seeing settled at the earliest possible opportunity. I can think of no better method of settling the question definitely and quickly. But for ' once I find myself in agreement with the honorable member for Hume, who has raised a point to which I incidentally referred when speaking on the second reading of the Bill ; and that is, the constitutional aspect of the. proposal before the House. I have always read section 125 of the Constitution to mean that the selection of the Federal Territory should be precedent to the selection of a site for the Seat of Government. It says -

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.

It seems to me that the words, " which shall have been," presuppose the granting or the acquisition of territory before the fixing of the site of the Seat of Government within that territory.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is it not more likely that it was intended to insure that we get our grant, as it were, before we go on with the building of the Capital?

Mr JOHNSON - It may be capable of that interpretation. I do not wish to set my opinion as a layman in opposition to the judgment of legally trained minds. I take it that the Government, before introducing the Bill, paid full regard to that aspect of the situation, and satisfied themselves that they would be acting within the provisions of the Constitution in deciding to determine the Seat of Government before the territory in which it will be situated has been granted to or acquired byl the Commonwealth. That is a point to which I merely wish to refer in passing. I hope that honorable members will assist the Government in coming to a speedy conclusion in regard to a question which has been awaiting finality for so many years. It has been objected that certain of the sites now proposed were- rejected by a previous Parliament ; but I would remind the House that we are not bound to take cognizance of the actions of that Parliament, and that it is within our rights to choose any site we may please. I shall be prepared to give the Government proposal mv support.

Sir JOHNFORREST (Swan). - I regret that the Government have not adhered to their original proposal. I cannot see any advantage in the new proposals over that first made, either from the point of view of those who advocate the selection of certain sites, or for the purpose of securing the best site in the" interests of the country. It seems to me reasonable to select the Federal Territory before deciding upon the Seat of Government within that territory, and I think that the original proposal of the Government, amended as proposed by the honorable member for Gwydir, would be more likely to bear good fruit than that now before us. All kinds of .complications may arise if we proceed first to determine the exact site of the Federal Capital. On the other hand, if we choose first the Federal Territory, the whole mind of the House will afterwards be concentrated upon the selection within that territory of the best site for the Seat of Government. Before determining the site of the Federal Capital, we must say in what district or territory it should be situated, and it seems to me that all the arguments which have been advanced in favour of the proposal to first determine the site apply still more strongly if used in favour of the original proposal of the Government. While I am entirely opposed to the postponement of this question for a long period, I am not an advocate of extreme haste. I think we should not come to a decision until the fullest information is available to us. During the last few days the name of a. new site has been submitted. A good many honorable members visited it last week, and I gather from conversations which I have had with them, and from the reports which I- have read in regard to it, that the place has a good many qualifications. Why, then, should we be called upon to determine to-night the exact position of the Seat of Government, when we do not possess full information upon the site to which I refer?

Mr Batchelor - Honorable members will not be called upon to determine the site of the Seat of Government to-night. That is not to be done until the matter has been discussed in' Committee on the Bill. To-night we deal only with the mode of procedure to be adopted in choosing a site.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I understand that the schedule is to be amended.

Mr Batchelor - The schedule referred to is part of the motion which provides for the mode of procedure to be followed in choosing a site.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Personally, I look with some favour upon the site which . has been recently visited by some honorable members, but if we are to vote on the question to-night I must vote against it. I should like to know from you, Mr. Speaker, what the procedure to be adopted really is.

Mr SPEAKER - If the House passes the motions now before it, certain names will be selected to appear later on a votingpaper. When the question now under discussion has been disposed of, the House will resolve itself into a Committee of the whole to consider the Bill which has been received from another place. At a stage in the consideration of that Bill progress will be reported, and the House will re-, sume. Then, on an occasion to be fixed hereafter, but not less than a day, and it may be more, after passing these motions, a ballot will be taken to select a. site. After that ballot has been taken, the House will again go into Committee on the Bill, to insert in it the name of the selected site.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Then, I take it that we are to decide which of the districts which have been named we prefer, and. if ihat district contains more than one site, to determine which of them shall be chosen for the Seat of Government But was it not originally proposed that we should deal to-night with the Bill itself?

Mr Batchelor - No.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Then I have not fully understood the procedure. What I wish the House to do is to first select the territory in which the Seat of Government should be located, and then, after a short interval has elapsed, to determine the exact site of the Seat of Government within that territory. That seems to me a more reasonable course than the course which is now proposed. I think that a closer examination of the districts which have been named, especially where they contain sites which have not been examined very closely, is necessary. We ought, for instance, to have more information in regard to the Welaregang site. That site seems to have many of what I regard as necessary qualifications, and it is not treating it fairly to ask us to deal with it before we have obtained more information in regard to it. There are not many districts, even in New South Wales, where a large water supply, an elevated situation, and fertile country are to be found together, and the only two which have been made known to us are situated on the Snowy and the Murray rivers. I think that more difficulties will arise if we proceed, in the first instance, to determine the site of the Federal Capital, than if we first select a territory or district. Therefore, I should like to know from the Government why they have departed from their original proposal, which was a reasonable one, and in accordance with the wording of the Constitution. I have no desire to influence the votes of others in regard to this matter. I look upon the choosing of the Federal Capital Site as of great national importance, and every honorable member should be free to exercise his own judgment in regard to it. The question is certainly not a party one, though I wish I could think that it will be treated by every one as a non-party question. Those who come from other States cannot bring to its discussion the feeling which has been displayed by the representatives of New South Wales, whose constituents take such a lively interest in it. The position now is this: Three districts, or territories, are open for selection - the Eden-Monaro territory, the territory which stretches from Tumut to the Murray, and the Lyndhurst, or western territory.. I should like the

House to first select one of those territories, and then, after a week or two, to undertake the task of locating within it the site of the Seat of Government. I cannot see that any unfairness would be involved to any individual or to any State. I feel compelled to vote against the proposal of the Prime Minister, because, although no doubt his intentions are perfectly good, the object aimed at may be achieved by more satisfactory means. I regret that the Government have not adhered to the first proposal made by the Minister of Home Affairs.

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