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Thursday, 30 August 1928

Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) .- I have no -personal knowledge of this matter, but having listened to the carefully prepared statement made by the Minister, I consider that the honorable member for Cook was fully justified in bringing the subject before the House. The document from which the Minister quoted revealed that the architect had estimated that 1800 tons of cement would be required for this job.

Sir Neville Howse - The estimate was made by Sir John Harrison.

Mr SCULLIN - He is a member of the Federal Capital Commission and presumably based his estimate on the quantities taken out in the architect's office. Sir John Harrison is a practical builder, and he could only estimate the amount of cement required if he had before him the specifications and quantities supplied by the architect. When the job was completed 600 tons of the cement ordered for it was still in the store. The first thought that suggests itself to my mind is that an enormous waste of public money has occurred. The explanation offered is that the architect changed the proportions to be used in the concrete, presumably after the contract had been let and signed.

Sir Neville Howse - That is so.

Mr SCULLIN - The mixture originally specified was to contain one-third more cement than the amended mixture. That alteration, I suggest, must have considerably reduced the cost of the concrete to the contractor; yet not one word was known of it until a vigilant officer in the Commission's stores drew attention to the fact that 600 tons of cement was still on hand. The Minister should not try to defend unbusinesslike methods of that character; nor should he suggest that the honorable member for Cook has done wrong in bringing this matter before Parliament four months after the completion of the job. The Minister controlling the Territory would set the public mind more at ease if he would frankly declare that a wrong has been done and that the culpable person or persons will be suitably dealt with.

Sir Neville Howse - I have said that that will be done if the evidence shows culpability..

Mr SCULLIN - I am not one to judge any man upon insufficient evidence, but I do say that the testimony read by the Minister shows that a great wrong has been done to the public of the Commonwealth, and something more is required than a mere investigation of quantities and prices. The strength of the foundations upon which one of the permanent monumental buildings of the city will rest is the important consideration.

Sir Neville Howse - It is.

Mr SCULLIN - With the knowledge we have gained from all parts of the world of what contractors are capable of doing, and bearing in mind the experiences of various Governments in Australia, foundations, at any rate, should never be laid by contract. It is a commo u practice of Governments when letting contracts for important buildings, bridges and other forms of construction, to insist that the foundations at any rate shall be put in by day labour. The foundations of the building now under consideration are to cost about £50,000, of which £46,000 has been already paid. Are we to understand from the Minister that no member of the Commission was aware that the proportion of cement in the foundations had been reduced until the job was completed? If so that matter also calls for inquiry.

Sir Neville Howse - One is being held.

Mr SCULLIN - The foundations are vital to the structure to be raised upon them. In this instance the architect changed the mixture so that the quantity of cement to be used on the job was reduced from 1800 tons to 1200 tons, and apparently nobody in authority knew of the change until the job was completed and a surplus of 600 tons of cement in the stores was revealed.

Mr Maxwell - The Commonwealth had contracted to pay for the stronger mixture.

Mr SCULLIN - Yes, the contract price was based on a mixture with a higher proportion of cement. The Minister has said that in this matter the Commission is only the client; I think it is the principal and the authorized custodian of the public interest. It is idle for the Minister to say that the Commission is without responsibility in this matter; that is a new doctrine in regard to the status of the Commission, and one which the House will not readily accept.

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