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Wednesday, 19 September 1928

Mr C RILEY (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- I register my strong opposition to this bill, first because I am absolutely opposed to commission government, and secondly if commission control of Canberra is to continue, because I believe that the representation proposed in it is entirely inadequate. The nonfulfilment of the Prime Minister's promise in the matter of local representation, is on all fours with the nonfulfilment of his last pre-election promises. The Government has fallen down on its job in this instance. The bill denies the franchise to citizens in the Federal Capital Territory who have a right to participate in the choice of a representative. I regard the bill as a farce and a sham. The hand of the Chief Commissioner is apparent throughout it. The powers of the citizen's representative on the commission are to be so restricted as to prevent a proper examination by him of all expenditure ' and administrative affairs. It is not so many months since this Parliament was considering the British Empire Exhibition Bill,' which proposed to place the whole of the activities of the commissioner to be appointed beyond the reach of inquiry by either the Committee of Public Works or the Public Accounts Committee. An endeavour is made in this bill to give a sort of hotch-potch representation and to clothe the third commissioner with just sufficient authority to make him appear to be decently set up. Public servants and others living within the Federal Capital Territory who are not provided for in this bill will be denied the right to have a voice in the selection of a representative, whereas persons who are not residents of the Territory, but who happen to be lessees, will be allowed to vote. I do not support the proposal that the whole of the staff of the Home and Territories Department should be disfranchised. If it is considered wise to debar any public servants from the right to vote, it should be only those who are responsible for the administration of the act, although I am not even in favour of that. The bill provides that a sum of £250 per annum shall be available for the payment of fees to the local representative. This sum, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed out, provides for the attendance of the commissioner at only 47 meetings per annum, the payment being fixed at £5 5s. a sitting. If commission control is to continue, and if a fair programme of constructional work is to be carried out, the commissioners should meet at least twice a week. In the past, too much has been left to departmental heads, and to men who, in my opinion, are absolutely incapable of the work with which they have been entrusted. The local representative should have full opportunity to investigate and cheek all administrative acts and executive proceedings. Here, again, I detect the hand of the Chief Commissioner, who is not at all anxious that residents in the Territory should know what is going on. The amount set aside for the payment of fees to the local representative is altogether inadequate. It should be doubled at least, so that there would be no clanger of its being expended before the end of the year, thereby preventing the local representative from attending further meetings of the commission. To pass the measure in its' present form would be absolutely futile. It will merely allow the local representative to attend the commission meetings, and ask one or two inquisitive questions, but if he wants any other information, he will, like ordinary residents of the Territory, have to seek it at the inquiry counter of the commission's office. If we are to have a local representative who will be of any use, one who will help to curtail the present unnecessary expenditure in Canberra, he should have access to all papers and files, and have a status equal to that of the other commissioners, the third commissioner will be looked upon, to a large extent, as a municipal or even a parliamentary representative, and will be inundated with correspondence and complaints from all parts of the Territory. He will not merely have to attend commission meetings, but will have to devote a great deal of time to other things as well, and for that reason should receive a greater remuneration than is provided for. Although the bill proposes to allow members of the Commonwealth Public Service to be nominated and elected, it provides that, in the event of an officer of the Public Service being elected as third commissioner - . . . he shall, from time to time, be granted by his department, without diminution of salary, such leave as is necessary to enable him to carry out his duties as third commissioner.

A record shall be kept of all leave granted in pursuance of this section, and the officer may, at the discretion of the permanent head of his department, be required to make up the whole or part of the period for which he has beenso granted leave.

If the Government is earnest and sincere in this matter, if it is anxious that residents of the Federal Capital Territory shall have the best man available as their representative, whether he comes from within or without the Public Service, why place this veiled threat in the bill? Why tell the public servant, in effect, that he may, if elected, be granted certain leave to attend meetings of the commission on condition that he behaves himself, and does nothing contrary to the wishes of the powers that be, but that if he makes himself a nuisance, the permanent head of his department may insist upon his making up the time he had off? If the Government proposes to do the thing at all, why not do it properly? If the third commissioner requires one or two days a week off in order to perform his duties as a commissioner, those days should be given to him unconditionally.

I am opposed to the continuance of the present method of control, and, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, who has spent a good deal of time during the last six months in inquiring into housing and building costs generally in Canberra, I say unhesitatingly that there has Deen a great deal of extravagance in the administration of the Territory. The present system of control is far from what could be desired, and is calculated to cause much discontent. Much ill feeling has been created by the failure of the commission to answer complaints addressed to it, and residents hare been unable to obtain redress of their grievances. To my mind, Canberra has reached that stage in its development when the retention of a costly commission is no longer necessary. Most of our main buildings are completed, and it is not proposed, owing to the financial stringency, it is said, to proceed with the building of the permanent administrative block. Therefore, it is not necessary to maintain the huge constructional staff at present attached to the commission. The control of the Territory should be handed over to two Commonwealth departments : The Works and Railways Department should control building activities, and affairs connected with municipal government and land administration should be placed under the control of the Home and Territories Department. Such a change would produce a very beneficial result. I object not only to the salaries paid to the commissioners, but also to the expensive and extravagant habits that they have acquired of gathering around them enormous staffs. I am sure that there is a considerable amount of over-staffing in the commission offices. The practice has been followed of creating positions, and paying high salaries to those who occupy them. It is a mistaken and wasteful policy for the Commonwealth Parliament to appoint a Public Service hoard, which is supposed to be responsible for creating positions arid fixing salaries in the Public Service, and then to allow the Federal Capital Commission, and the Development and Migration Commission, to create any number of positions without check, and to pay what salaries they like.

By handing over the administration of the Territory to the two departments which I have mentioned, we should be able to have matters conducted with that efficiency which is associated with .the Commonwealth Public Service. While the inquiry has been in progress into conditions in Canberra, I have come into contact with a considerable number of representatives of the Commonwealth Public Service, and I have been most favorably impressed with the calibre and ability of those officers. I consider that an enormous saving would have been effected in the development of Canberra had its construction been entrusted to the Works and Railways Department. But that sensible course was abandoned and the commission appointed to the control of this particular branch of its activities a man who had spent the whole of his time in private contract work, and he surrounded himself with those with whom he had been associated in his previous sphere- of activity. The result of this policy has been a neglect to plan carefully ahead, and a consequent unnecessary expenditure of the taxpayers' money. In the Works and Railways Department we have many practical men, who have been associated with it as permanent" officers for more than 20 years, and would have been fully qualified to carry, out all the constructional work in the Federal Capital Territory. A considerable saving "would have been effected. had the development of the Territory been entrusted to a Commonwealth department, and the duties of supervising all works been carried out by members of the Commonwealth Public Service. I, say that because I realize that there .is among the permanent officers of our service more stability than is to be found among casual employees engaged by commissions; more dependence can be placed upon them. The Federal Capital Commission '. has Wen. gradually diminishing its activities; it Has been taking steps to lease its workshops, and for some months past has abandoned its policy pf building "construction. With this diminution in activities, there is no longer need for the costly organization the commission 'has created ; nor, indeed, need for the retention of the commission itself. The tendency has been to make the job appear to be a huge ohe, and to gather together as many officials as possible, apparently on the principle that large staffs of employees and huge stores full of material are a justification for the continuance of the job.

In spite of the diminution of the commission's activities, the value of the material in its stores amounts to from £110,000 to £115,000. The bulk of the stores have remained practically untouched during the last nine or twelve months. The taxpayers' money has been frittered away by having stores lying idle over a long period. In quite a number of instances lack of economy has been displayed. It would appear that big gogetting merchants from the city have only had to tell a pretty tale to the commission or its buying officers for the latter to agree willingly enough to buy in very substantial quantities. That is a practice that should not be tolerated at the present time. The commission's stores are crammed almost from floor to ceiling with articles which are no longer required. At the present time there are £4,000 worth of steam radiators in stock. As a matter of fact, they have been in stock for 40 months, and over that period show a loss in interest alone of £600, apart altogether from depreciation in value due to obsolescence. That is a condition of affairs which ought not to be tolerated, but is likely to continue if the commission form of control is maintained. There is on hand at the present time in the commission's stores, £15,000 worth of cabling. The carrying of such an enormous quantity cannot be justified. For the construction of Parliament House, 780 barrels of white cement were purchased at a cost of £2,646, and of that quantity 280 barrels were returned to the stores and have been lying idle in the stores for the last three years. The value of that cement is a few pounds under £1,000. Economy and prudence have not been exercised in estimating the requirements, and as a result an enormous quantity of unnecessary material has been purchased. It is intolerable that material should lie unused in the stores for years. We are all familiar with the enthusiastic purchase by the commission of 700 sheets of celotex sheeting to improve the acoustic properties in this chamber and in the Senate, but that purchase was effected, as if there was money to burn, before it was satisfactorily shown that the material would be required. When the task of improving the acoustic properties of the chambers came to be undertaken, it was ascertained that all that was required was the hanging of a few curtains and the provision of a few more carpets. The purchase of this celotex sheeting was quite typical of the way in which other material was bought in large quantities. This sheeting is now in the store unpacked and in the condition in which it was delivered by the agents. A quantity of conduit ordered for Parliament House and valued at £1,500 has been lying in the stores, and the commission, having the material on hand, is now utilizing it for. cottage construction, for which it is far too heavy and too expensive. The commission seeks to justify itself by not loading the extra cost of the material on the cottage. The commission is also making an attempt to get rid of the £4,000 worth of steam radiators on hand, to which I have previously referred. Quite recently Mr. Murdoch, Commonwealth DirectorGeneral of Public Works, told the Public Works Committee, which was inquiring into the proposal to build a zoological museum in Canberra, that £5,000 could be saved by not adopting the commission's recommendation . to install a steam heating system in the museum. Apparently the idea of the commission was to get rid of a few thousand pounds worth of the radiators lying idle in its stores, irrespective of whether their use was necessary or not. I could continue on the subject of the commission's stores, but I regard with more gravity the policy adopted by the commission of encouraging the contract as against the day labour system. A great deal has been said on many occasions in this Parliament about the costliness of day labour, but a careful examination of the various contracts entered into by the Federal Capital Commission and an investigation of the work done by contractors on behalf of the commission, have shown me that there has been a great deal more extravagance on works done by contract than there has been on works done by day labour and that in some instances thousands of pounds have been saved by having work done by the commission's construction branch.

Mr Gregory - Would that be in the Governor-General's residence ?

Mr C RILEY (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am referring to the additions to the Telopea Park School and many other buildings of considerable magnitude. The cost of the alterations and additions to the Governor-General's residence provides a conundrum not only for the members of the Public Accounts Committee, but also for this Parliament. I am satisfied that some of the labour and material supposed to have been employed on that work has not been used for that purpose. In my opinion work done on various private jobs is being charged up to public undertakings. Men allow work to be done on their own homes or on houses the cost of which has been under-estimated, and they switch the cost over to a job that can stand it.

Mr Gregory - That is an astounding indictment.

Mr C RILEY (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is the opinion I hold after having made inquiries.

Mr J FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - Has the honorable member any evidence of it?

Mr C RILEY (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that if a thorough investigation were made it would be readily agreed by any person with experience of building that the amounts set down as having been expended on certain works could not possibly have been spent on them. Much money has been lavished on the houses occupied by favoured officials of the commission, who can get whatever they want. They can obtain the best of materials and there is no restriction of expenditure in their case. Where information has been sought regarding the cost of the homes of employees of the commission, honorable members have had instances of three or four different sets of figures being supplied by the commission. How can Parliament arrive at a proper conclusion when it is supplied with conflicting evidence? The whole position is unsatisfactory, and the best course to adopt 13 to sweep away the present method of control.

Dealing with, the subject of building contracts, I am reminded that the commission let a contract to a man named

Mason for a hundred cottages. The contract price, including extras, was £133,840. The contractor left the Territory before the contract was completed, and between 35 and 40 cottages had to be finished by the commission. Although a great deal of work remained to be done by the contractor, he had received -in progress payments the sum of £129,400. For the work actually completed he was overpaid to the extent of £5,000. I have had an opportunity to examine these cottages. Many of the walls disclose the use of shocking materials, and the workman- ' ship is of the class usually associated with contract work.

Mr Gregory - The supervision was at fault there.

Mr C RILEY (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes; some of the walls are in a very bad condition, and the workmanship would not do credit to a bricklayer's improver who had not been at the trade for three weeks. It is a shocking state of affairs, and, as the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) says, it is due to faulty supervision. Furthermore, those responsible for it have been in league with the contractors, who are operating here, not for the advancement of the Territory, but for their personal ends. Those officials have been allowed to remain in the service of the commission. It is a serious indictment of the present method of control. Instead of appointing for supervisory work men specially selected because of their experience, the commission has employed "misfits" who are lacking in experience in the building trade. In the case of Mason's contract, in which the total over-expenditure amounted to £8,931 and the contractor received progress payments in excess of the value of the work done in connexion therewith, there should be a searching investigation.

I could cite one case after another that indicate lack of supervision and inefficient work. The paths and carways contract provides ample scope for inquiry. Public servants who have been forced to live in Canberra have been charged £25 to cover the cost of paths around their cottages. That sum is far in excess of the amount that should have been charged. The committee of which I am a member made inquiries into this matter, and, with the official files before us, we found that over 70 per cent, of the work done was of a deficient character. It was learnt that the matter had engaged the attention of the internal auditor of the commission, who reported that about 1,200 cubic yards of metal intended for this contract had not been put into the work.

Sitting suspended from 12.^5 p.m. to 2.80 p.m.

Mr C RILEY (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The metal used on the paths and carways was deficient to the extent of approximately 1,240 cubic yards. When this matter was brought under the notice of the Public Accounts Committee, the commission, in its usual style, assured the committee that the interests of the taxpayers were fully protected, that the discrepancies were known, and that it was the intention of the commission and the contractor that the work should be done over again. The statement that the contractor intended to carry his gear on to 100 or more blocks to add two or three extra inches of gravel, and water and re-roll the paths, will not be accepted by any reasonable or thinking person. The work was not carried out according to the specifications, yet progress payments were made by the commission. It is admitted that serious errors occurred in regard to the measurements upon which payments were made. I understand further that payments were made to the contractor for works not included in this contract. Subsequently the same contractor, who seems to have several friends in the commission's service, was given a further contract in connexion with which no tenders were invited. He was given also a contract for certain drainage work in opposition to the recommendation of the responsible head of the construction department. These instances reveal the existence of a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. Unquestionably, the taxpayers' money has been extravagantly expended in the city. Contractors have been able to get payment for a great deal of shoddy work. They do not want their employees to do good work; consequently public money has been squandered carelessly, and many public servants who have acquired homes, have been called upon to pay for work that was not faithfully performed. Bruce, Eden and Griffiths were overpaid on their contract to the amount of £800. It is extraordinary that public money should be paid out for work that either was not done at all, or was not done according to specification.

I do not propose to refer to the contract for the foundations for the administrative block, because I understand that it is the subject of an expert investigation. But I remind the Minister and the Government that they have a duty not only to this Parliament, but also to the taxpayers. Apparently £50,000 has already been paid to the contractors for a job which was not done according to specification. The Government is very zealous in prosecuting persons under the Crimes Act for industrial offences, and it should lose no time in prosecuting contractors who have been guilty of fraudulent practices.

I am satisfied that when honorable members seek information from the commission, the answers they receive are not frank and true ; information given on different days in regard to the same matter varies considerably. The sooner the existing incompetent controlling body is swept aside the better it will be for all concerned.

In regard to the reconstitution of the commission, the Government is not justified in the dying hours of Parliament in providing for the re-appointment of two commissioners for five years. If such appointments were made, and the next Parliament decided to alter the system of controlling the Federal Capital Territory, the appointees would be entitled to compensation. At this stage, no appointments should be made for a period exceeding twelve months, and I hope that the Government will recognize the wisdom of deferring the proposals which are submitted to Parliament. If the provisions of the bill were likely to be acceptable to the residents of the Territory, there might be some justification for thus temporarily bridging the gap between the end of this Parliament and the beginning of the next. I hope that early steps will be taken in ' the new Parliament to rid the Territory of its present costly incubus. I would be the last to decry the

Federal Capital, but we who are custodians of the people's money will fail in our duty if we remain silent while the present extravagance continues.

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