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Wednesday, 19 September 1928

Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .- The alleged object of the bill is to give to the citizens of Canberra representation on the Federal Capital Commission. I say this because the measure does not redeem the promise made by the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce a few months ago. When the original act was under discussion, in 1924, the then Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) and many other honorable members on this side of the House, strenuously opposed the proposal to appoint a commission to be charged with the responsibility of developing the capital city area. One of our principal reasons for this objection was that the appointment of the commission would limit the authority of Parliament. Nominally, of course, the Federal Capital Commission, and the whole of its operations, are under parliamentary control, but actually the position is otherwise. When I was debating the original bill I emphasized that I did not wish to see a repetition of our experience with regard to previous commissions. Consequently, I strongly urged that Parliament should keep full control over the development of the Federal Capital Territory. I also warned the House that if the Federal Capital Commission were appointed, the machinery of the Government Printing Office would be working overtime in the printing of ordinances under which . the people living in the Territory would be governed. My anxiety in that connexion has been amply justified. Numberless ordinances have been made. Under these ordinances the Commission has set up legislative machinery which should have come before this Parliament for approval; because, after all, the responsibility for the development of the capital city lies, not in the hands of the Commission, but in the hands of Parliament. Honorable members on this side of the House opposed the appointment of the Federal Capital Commission on these and other grounds. No one can claim that Parliament now has effective control over the development of this city.

In voicing my objection to the Government's proposal at that time, I stressed the danger of vesting too much power in the Commission. While no doubt that body has carried out a number of important public works, and while its engineers and other officials may be eminently suited to their respective duties, there was no guarantee at the time of its approval that the Commission itself would be possessed of the municipal experience so necessary for the successful development of a new city. My apprehension in that regard has been more than justified by events up to the present time. Though the persons responsible for the drafting of the ordinances relating to land, rentals, appraisements and valuations, may have had a certain amount of academic knowledge of the subject, most certainly they had no practical knowledge. Consequently the system and usages adopted for the control of the Territory have not been to the advantage of the people. One of the principal factors responsible for retarding development has been this lack of practical knowledge, plus au absence of sympathy by members of the Commission itself in administering the leasehold system. I desire that Parliament should assume full responsibility over the Commission's activities. Honorable members on this side will oppose the bill. We object to the reconstitution of the Commission. We say that this bill, which is supposed to give the citizens of Canberra representation on the Commission, is a hollow pretence.

I am not one of those persons who constantly decry the Commission. Some of its officers are capable men and have done their work well, but others are incapable, and their inexperience has been the cause of many of the mistakes and discrepancies that have from time, to time been discussed in this chamber. Grave mistakes have been made in Canberra, and at present an investigation is taking place respecting the foundations of the administrative buildings. The Minister for Home and Territories has promised, to make, if possible, an interim report to this House before it rises. 1 should be happy to receive such a report, but I do not anticipate that anything definite will be made known in respect of those foundations until after Parliament prorogues.

Sir Neville Howse - Not until the inquiry is completed.

Mr BLAKELEY - I should say that the report will not be completed in time, and will not be submitted to honorable members during the life of this Parliament.

Sir Neville Howse - It could not be.

Mr BLAKELEY - The Minister is to blame to some extent for the delay, because there is no justification for the hushup policy that has been adopted in this case. The Commission was well aware of the facts before the subject was ventilated' in this chamber; it was doubtful whether the foundations of the administrative building were up to the specified standard; so there was ample time for an investigation to be made and a report submitted before the House adjourned. I give the Commission credit for discovering that there had been certain discrepancies in connexion with this building, but I submit that the fullest publicity should be given to the investigation. The facts should not be hushed up merely for the purpose of protecting some individual or individuals.

I admit that the Commission has carried out many of its works under great disabilities, but the work done at Yarralumla House is an outstanding disgrace to the Federal Capital. A huge sum of money was expended in altering and extending that building, and it would have paid the Commission to build a new Government House altogether. The costing and general supervision of that job were faulty to an extreme, and additional expense was incurred because of the GovernorGeneral of Australia making drastic alterations to the plans after the work had begun. There have been many similar mistakes in and about the Federal Territory. There was lack of supervision at the Kurrajong Hotel and in other places.

Mr Fenton - Who gave the authority to alter Yarralumla House?

Mr BLAKELEY - I do not know, and for the moment I am not dealing with that aspect of the case. The Commission has done, and is doing, good work, but its lack of experience and responsibility has been responsible for many of the mistakes at Canberra. Before the Commission's regime the Federal Capital Territory was administered by the Works and Railways Department, the Home and Territories Department and the Federal Capital Advisory Committee. Those bodies were responsible for the development of the capital to a certain stage. The Works and Railways Department is responsible for the carrying out of works costing millions of pounds. It has a trained staff consisting of men who have grown up with the department, and their work has been particularly free from constructional errors, such as have taken place in the Federal Capital Territory. Not only does the commission lack experience, but it also suffers under serious disabilities because of the policy of the Government. The public servants arrived at Canberra in waves, and the commission's organization was not sufficiently developed to cope with them. It had no conception of the housing requirements, and to-day it has a number of houses on its hands. I believe that the Works and Railways Department, had it been given control of the Territory, would have dealt with the position much more satisfactorily than did the commission. That body suffered waves not only of public servants, but also of economy. After its organization had reached a certain stage of efficiency and numerical strength, the Government decided to institute an economy campaign. That policy was disastrous to the organization, and proved to be false economy in the end.

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