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Friday, 11 June 1915

Mr MANIFOLD (Corangamite) . - It is curious to find from speeches of honorable members that both those who live in Melbourne and those who live elsewhere are keen about getting this Parliament moved to the Federal Capital. The honorable member for Maribyrnong said that the sooner we get there the better.


Mr MANIFOLD - No doubt we shall some day adopt a definite scheme for the laying out of the- Federal Capital. The matter has been debated continually almost from the inception of Federation, but, unfortunately, each Minister wishes to take his own course. We shall arrive at some conclusion only when a plan has been adopted, and each successive Minister agrees to work on it. Until that is done in regard to both the Federal Capital and the Northern Territory there will be no progress. I have risen to bring under the notice of the Minister the manner in which land is acquired by his Department. The Department deals with two classes of land-owners - those who are reasonable, and learning that their land is wanted for public purposes, are ready to part with it for a fair price, and those ยป referred to by the honorable member for Lang, who try to get the greatest amount of compensation possible. The Department does not differentiate between them. It treats both classes alike, and irritates them as much as possible. I heard a trumpet sounding last night about the wonderful things done by the honorable member for Darwin when Minister of Home Affairs; but even under his administration what I complain of occurred. The departmental officers do not tell the Minister that certain land-holders are willing to accept a reasonable price, and do not get their cases dealt with straight away; they merely put before the Minister piles of orders" for compulsory purchases for him to sign. When the man who is prepared to be reasonable receives a notice stating that his land is to be compulsorily purchased, he becomes unreasonable. My experience is that when you can see a Minister about any matter of this kind, he is prepared to deal fairly and expeditiously, whatever party he may belong to, but it is difficult for a private individual to get such a hearing, and in the end he has generally to see his representative before he can obtain reasonable treatment. A private person, if he goes to the Department, is treated unsatisfactorily. Indeed, he is almost cheeked by the departmental officers. When the honorable member for Darwin was Minister, the Department acquired a very valuable piece of land in my electorate. That land belonged to the shire council, whose officers, when approached, said that the Department could have it at any time on paying fair compensation. It had been bought by the council about six months previously for a certain purpose, and had on it a windmill, and several pits had been made in it. Notwithstanding the statement of the council's officers, a notice of compulsory purchase was served on the council. I do not blame the Minister for this, because the action was that of his officers.

Mr Archibald - Perhaps what was done had to be done to comply with the law.

Mr MANIFOLD - If so the law should be made reasonable. In the case that I mentioned the land could have been acquired from the shire council at a reasonable price and without any trouble. The Department, however, was not content to get what it wanted in that way. It served a notice of compulsory purchase, and ordered off the land stock which was being raised there by the tenant of the shire council. It also took possession of the land and cut off access from it in every way. I then took up the case. I saw the acting Secretary, who was then Chief Clerk, and he behaved very reasonably, and called in the Inspector of Works, before whom I laid the matter. There were about 40 acres in the whole block, and the Department wanted about 10 acres. On behalf of the council I asked if it would give access to the balance, and the inspector .replied, " I cannot tell you." I said, " That seems unreasonable." He replied, "We must refer the matter to the Defence Department to ascertain whether it will allow access." I said, " Give me a letter to the Defence Department, and I will get its answer." The Inspector said, " I cannot give you a letter," and the acting Secretary was forced to remark, " Surely this is not the way to answer a gentleman. Cannot a ' chaser ' be sent to the Defence Department to find out whether it will give a road across the proposed rifle range?" I pointed out that if access were not given to the land that was left that land would become useless to the council, but that if it would be given the council would like to move its improvements from where they stood on to the land it was not proposed to resume. I showed that it would be useless to move the improvements if it were proposed to take the whole of the land, and that it would cost the Government a good deal more to resume the whole block than to take only a portion of it. The reply I received was, " What does it matter what it will cost the Government - the Department will pay ? " Apparently it does not matter what waste takes place. It is thought to be sufficient that the Department will pay.

Mr Archibald - How long ago did this happen?

Mr MANIFOLD - About two and a half years ago ; but the same sort of thing is going on now.

Mr Archibald - I hope not ; I do not know of it.

Mr MANIFOLD - It is not possible for every private land-owner whose land the 'Department proposes to resume, to see the Minister. Indeed, it is difficult for a member- to do so until he has cooled his heels in the passage for hours.

Mr Archibald - I do not think that honorable members have had to do that since I have been a Minister.

Mr MANIFOLD - The Minister is often busy, and a private individual has no chance of interviewing him. He must see the permanent heads in the various States, and that is very often how all the friction arises. Many* cases could be settled quite reasonably, as owners are generally prepared to settle straight away; but the practice of the Department seems to be to irritate a reasonable man until he is brought up to the fighting point, and' once a man's blood is roused, trouble begins. The Minister says that the Department has most trouble with the small men. It is the small men to whom Parliament should extend its protection. The man who has a portion of a large estate resumed can take his case to the High Court and fight the Crown, or make the Department toe the mark and come to a reasonable agreement; but, as the small man cannot do this, it is our duty to see that he is not forced into the Court, and that he has every opportunity of getting a fair deal. The Minister claims that there is not much of this going on at present, but I believe that there are just as many cases nearly as bad as the one I have mentioned. When the Department wishes to resume land, it does not go to the leading valuers in the district to secure a valuation; it does not go to the men who are valuing land every day; it looks upon those men as rogues ; but it gets its valuations made by men who probably have never valued an acre of land before. At least that is what has happened in my district. If the Department will not employ men who are accustomed to the work of valuing, and thus enable settlements to be more easily effected, will they accept the shire valuation ? At any rate, a case should be looked into before the irritating stage is reached. When we have to deal with men who are ready to part with the land we require, cannot we abolish the compulsory provision of the Act, and let inspectors go out and secure a valuation from some responsible person who knows the values of land in the district concerned, and then come to a settlement with the owners?

Mr Archibald - I am under the impression that I am not allowed by the Act to do so.

Mr Groom - There is power in the Act to acquire land by agreement.

Mr MANIFOLD - At any rate, very often if the owner could go before the Minister the whole matter of the acquisition of a piece of land could be settled in a few minutes.

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