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Thursday, 6 May 1915

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) . - I would like to say a few words on this burning question, as I recently visited the Capital site, and I am of opinion that excellent work has been done for the money expended. Let us consider what the much abused departmental officers have done and are doing. Tenders were called by the late Government for the construction of the channels and dams in connexion with the water supply for the city. Every facility was given to the contractors throughout Australia to tender for the work, and plans and specifications were provided. The tenders submitted were much higher than the departmental estimate. Fresh tenders were called for, the Government of the day actually promising to carry the material to be used to the positions in which it was to be placed. But again the tenders submitted were 25 per cent, higher than the departmental estimate. The work is now being done by day labour, under departmental supervision, and done effectively and well for 25 per cent, less than the price submitted in the tenders that were received. The last Government was prejudiced against the day-labour system, and stopped all works, so that tenders might be called for. The charges against the departmental officers have been based on hearsay evidence. The honorable member who made them was evidently misinformed. Why did he not ask the departmental officers what has been done, as I did ?

Mr Austin Chapman - More money was spent at the Federal Capital in one year by the last Government than was spent in any one year by the preceding Labour Government, or will be spent this year by a Labour Government.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - I am credibly informed that the last Government hung up big works so that tenders might be called for them.

Mr Joseph Cook - That is not true. The statement is answered by the interjection of the honorable member for EdenMonaro.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - Money may have been spent, but big works were hung up.

Mr Pigott - On what was the money spent, if the works were hung up ?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - I do not know how the money was spent. I ask the exPrime Minister if it is not a fact, that as soon as his Government got into power it suspended operations with day labour?

Mr Joseph Cook - It is not a fact.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - Is it not a fact that the right honorable member's Government called for tenders for the construction of the water supply works ?

Mr Joseph Cook - That is an entirely different question.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - Mr. Dan Freeman, of Tasmania, was the lowest tenderer, and his offer was 25 per cent, higher than the price at which the Department is now carrying out the work with day labour. The dam across the Cotter River is almost finished, and the supply of water is the purest that I have seen, coining as it does off granite country. The pipe-line is nearly finished, and there is a huge reservoir in course of construction. When it has been finished, the water supply works will be complete. There is also a station for generating electricity, which is one of the finest in the southern hemisphere, and equal, I think, to any in the world. Mr. Christie, the engineer-in-charge, explained to me the labour-saving machinery which has beon installed there, and it appeared to me better than anything I have seen in Switzerland, France, or Great Britain. He assured me that they would get 12 per cent, of the effective capacity of the coal used; and the honorable member for Henty knows from practical experience that it is considered good to get 6 per cent, of the effective capacity of the coal. I saw the mechanical stokers, the boilers, and the arrangements for consuming the smoke, to prevent smoke nuisance. The station will supply all the power needed at the Capital for many years to come. If succeeding Governments do not interfere, there will, I hope, be electrical railways on the Capital Site, and machinery will be installed for doing all the necessary work more cheaply than it can be done in any other part of Australia.

Mr Boyd - How can a Government Department be confined to an estimate? In scores of cases estimates are exceeded.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - In this case that is not so. The engineers are willing to submit a statement.

Mr Boyd - Which would be worth nothing !

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - Everything is being done thoroughly at Canberra. I know a little about road construction. Often when a contractor should put 4 inches of metal on a road surface, he lays only 2 inches, and thus makes a little on his contract. At Canberra, however, the roads are being constructed as no contractor would make them. They have there the necessary material and the necessary men, and the roads are equal to any in Australia - good macadamized thoroughfares that will last for years. I saw a traction engine there drawing on the roughest of the roads 30 tons of material, and I understood the Administrator to say - I am not positive that my figures are correct, and, therefore, do not wish to bind him by this statement - that when tenders were asked for the moving of material from one part of the Territory to another, the price asked averaged £2 a ton, but that the Department is doing the work for 3s. a ton. I should like the Minister to ascertain whether I am correct in that statement. Why do honorable members say that nothing has been done at the Territory? The Public Works Committee did all that was asked of it. Mr. Griffin wanted to empty the. sewage round about the city at two or three places. Another engineer desired to take it a little further out. The Public Works Committee disagreed with both, and recommended the departmental scheme. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat was in favour of that scheme because he said that it is not advisable to waste water in Australia. He was in favour of the broad irrigation scheme suggested by Colonel Owen and Mr. Hill, engineers who thoroughly understand their work, and two of the most capable men in Australia.

Mr Sampson - I rose, not to criticise the work of Mr. Griffin nor that of the departmental officers, but to draw attention to the need for putting an end to the division of authority that exists.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - The honorable member rose to make political capital of evidence given before the Public Works Committee in Sydney by Mr. Griffin. I have nothing to say against that gentleman; but, after hearing his evidence sympathetically, I formed the opinion that he desired to create another great department, of which he shall be the head. Regarding the sewering of the Capital, he suggested that the sewage should be distributed in various places; but that an expert should be brought from America or elsewhere to advise on the point. He wished to follow the American system of building up a department of experts, of which he would be the head.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - 'Was it not the latest German system that he recommended?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - We are having enough of Germany now. The Imhoff system, which he recommended, is a German system.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - But Imhoff himself is not a German.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - I . do not say that he is. The system has been adopted by the Germans.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - Yes, and they are a scientific people.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - They may be. The Committee, however, was of the opinion that it is not desirable to waste a single drop of water in Australia. We thought that the effluent, after it had been treated as the Department suggested, should be carried away beyond the city, to be distributed. The officers are now doing the necessary work. The secret of the success of the Capital will be found in the fact that instead of the roads being made and then being destroyed again to lay down water supply pipes, everything is being done in its order, and all will be in readiness for the building of houses and the laying out of gardens when they are required. A great deal has been done at the Capital. An honorable member asked, "What about the lake?" I know nothing of engineering, but I understand, from my reading, that it is questionable whether a dam such as that proposed by Mr. Griffin could be made. The earth's crust will bear only a certain weight of water. I understand from an engineer that the dam which Mr. Griffin suggests would be three times the size of the Burrinjuck dam, and bigger than any other in the world. He suggests the damming of the Murrumbidgee below the entrance of the Cottar, thus filling up a huge ravine, and giving a volume of water with a surface from 30 to 50 miles in length, and with an enormous depth. The pressure on the dam would be enormous, and the embankment required to' support it would be colossal. I should not have risen but for the attack that has been made on capable departmental officers, whose ability should not be questioned by any honorable member of the House. They are men who have the courage of their opinions. They lay their schemes before the Minister and the people, and invariably these are adopted. A more careful inquiry than that of the Public Works Committee could not have been made. Practical men did their best in the interests of Australia, and with regard to their own reputation. They had the opinions of one or two of the most able engineers in Australia. The Chief Engineer of the State of New South Wales gave his views freely, and without charge.

If honorable members read the report of the Committee, they will ascertain what is being done. The country that we travelled over was granite country, and we found that millions of gallons of water are flowing down the Cotter, and that there can be no pollution of the stream.

Mr Austin Chapman - Has Mr. Griffin supplied the Minister with a plan of his dam ?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - The less Mr. Griffin is dragged into this debate,the better. He complained that he could not get the levels to enable him to proceed with the work; surely there should not te any difficulty in this direction. All practical men know that there is very little difficulty in this respect; and I venture to say that the Minister would have supplied the necessary surveyors to do the works immediately. The question is whether Colonel Owen or Mr. Griffin is to be the Director of Works - whether Mr, Griffin is to be allowed to go to Germany, America, Great Britain, and all over the world, for the purpose of bringing out experts to swell his own Department, or whether the work shall be left to such a man as Mr. Murdoch, whose suggestions were agreed to by capable architects in London in connexion with improvements he made in the design of the Commonwealth buildings in that city.

Mr Webster - Do the Public Works Committee propose to discharge Mr. Griffin ?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - The Committee have nothing to do with that matter - they have only to do what they are told by this House. I hope that conscientious men, who are working day and night, will not be abused purely for political purposes - because some honorable members desire to make a little capital out of the dispute amongst two or three officers. If there is any trouble - and I have yet to learn that there is - the Minister ought to be able to adjust it in a few minutes by getting the officers together, and telling Mr. Griffin who is to be the Administrator and the Director of Works.

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