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Wednesday, 27 July 1904

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Much as we have complained of provincialism in the opposition outside to any settlement of the Capital question, I think we have a great deal to complain of in the Chamber itself. I am not prepared to admit that the capacity of the House to settle the question has gone from it. Surely there must come a time when we shall* approach the question at close quarters,' and finally deal with it. I am thoroughly satisfied of the earnestness of the attempt of the present Government to get it settled, and I do not think that any honorable member can take objection to the course of procedure which has been adopted, though I agree with ' the last speaker, that it would have been better if the Government had taken the responsibility of proposing a site, and trying to get it accepted by both Houses of the Parliament. But as the question has so far been considered as a non-party one, I do not think that we can expect the present Government to take that attitude in regard to it, especially as individual Ministers have expressed different opinions as to the merits of the sites. I agree with what was said by the honorable member for Richmond this afternoon about the subject being a very much larger one than a question affecting the interests of any constituency or any one State. We have to deal with it from the point of view of the interests of Australia, and I have made up my mind to approach it from that stand-point. I have formed an idea as to which is the best site, and I voted for that site consistently when the ballots were taken two years ago; but I do not assert that that is the only site which is eligible, and if a majority of the Committee declared for one of the other sites, I would be prepared to give way. If I cannot get Lyndhurst, I am prepared to vote for Dalgety, and if Dalgety is not chosen. I shall vote for some other site in the southern district; but I am determined that, so far as I am concerned, the matter shall be definitely settled this session. I do not take much account of the objections which have been raised to the proposal to deal with the sites in districts, because it is apparent to me that, until the third reading of the Bill has been agreed to, it will be open to any section whose members feel aggrieved at the decision arrived at, either, because they suspect collusion of rival interests, or think that the result of the ballot was accidental, to have the Bill recommitted for the purpose of remedying the matter. I do not, however, apprehend that the decision of the ballot will be accidental. An analysis of the voting on the last occasion showed that only one vote could be called in question, and it was frankly admitted that this vote was cast by mistake. The error was admitted almost as soon as it was made. Otherwise, a straight-out vote was taken. In view of that experience, we may anticipate a straight-out vote again on the present occasion. I think that independent members of the- Committee - that is, independent in the sense of not being pledged to any one site - should not regard themselves as "cribbed, cabined, and confined" by the action of the three honorable gentlemen who are advocating three particular sites. The time must sooner or later arrive when we shall have to throw them over, and set to work, irrespective of their attempts to form coteries in support of one site or another. We have either to decide the question, or to confess our inability to deal with one of the most important and interesting subjects which has been brought before us. With regard to the clause now before the Committee, I take great exception to the manner in which it was originally drafted. It at first read -

It is hereby determined that the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be within twenty-five miles of......

That allowed a pretty wide area of choice. I indorse the remarks of the right honorable member for East Sydney, that what we are called upon to do is to determine the site of the Seat of Government pf the Commonwealth, not to choose a Federal territory. We should say definitely that the Capital shall be located within a mile or two of such and such a place.

Mr Batchelor - It would not do to make the limits too narrow.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No doubt that is so. But if we chose as wide an area as the clause originally provided for, the advocates of rival sites within that area would be so many that Parliament would have almost as much to do in locating the site of the Capital itself as it has to do now. I think we should say that the Capital shall be situated within a few miles of some particular place. Having done that, we might adopt the suggestion of the honorable member for . Kennedy, and appoint a small Commission to decide upon the exact location. - I would be quite ready to appoint the right honorable member for Swan as a Commissioner for such a purpose. He is a gentleman of great experience in these matters, an undoubted patriot, and comes from a State which is not directly interested, so that he would not be affected by the rivalry of Victoria and New South Wales. But whether we allow the right honorable member, like Constantine of old, to go to the district with lance in his hand, and trace out on the spot the bounds of our future Capital, or intrust the work to several gentlemen, we shall do better in the first instance to definitely determine the site within a mile or two, than to say that it shall be placed within a wide area. The clause, as amended by the Senate, extends the area much beyond the original intention. If reads -

It is hereby determined that the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be within that portion of New South Wales bounded on the north by a direct line running from the town of Pambula to the town of Cooma, thence due west to the border of the State of Victoria, and within fifty miles of Bombala, in the State of New South Wales.

There we have two conflicting arid absurd designations. The definition contained in that clause falsifies all notions of logic. To say that the Seat of Government shall be within fifty miles of Bombala is in itself a sufficient designation of the locality. But in addition to that it is provided that the Seat of Government shall be located in an area which also takes in Dalgety, and which forms a large parallelogram, comprising more than the 900 square miles subsequently provided for. I do not intend to trouble the Committee any further on this subject. I have already expressed my opinion on the merits of the rival sites, and I am quite ready to cast my vote to-night. I hope that there will be no more disputing on the subject, but that as soon as the Committee is thoroughly seized of all the facts that can be put before it, we shall take a ballot, and definitely settle the question. I hope, at any rate, that we shall not come to the lame and impotent conclusion at which we arrived last session, so that the matter has to be relegated to a future Parliament. , I hope, too, that we shall recognise the great importance of the subject to the future of Australia, and disregard the temporary interests of our constituencies, and of our States.

The CHAIRMAN - There may be some misapprehension as to the work which the Committee is supposed to undertake in connexion with this Bill. This is the stage at which the merits of the various proposed sites should be discussed. The House has gone into Committee to allow the fullest discussion of that subject. When this discussion is concluded, progress will be reported, and a ballot will then be taken in the House without further debate.

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