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Wednesday, 19 September 1928


Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) . - I voted against the appointment of the commission, and have been opposed to it from its inception. That opposition has been fully justified by our experience of its administration. I join issue to an extent with the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Duncan-Hughes). I am prepared to give credit to any man who does his work well, and I do not wish to be a critic for criticism's sake. It is well known that Parliament decided that a world-wide competition should be held in order to obtain a suitable design for the city. A considerable number of designs were received, and these were reduced to three, from which the plan submitted by Mr. Griffin was chosen. So far as I am aware, that plan has been followed with very little variation. Therefore, it seems to me that the commission has had very little to do, except to follow the plan, which shows the exact position of practically every building or group of buildings. I do not wish to speak in derogatory terms of the members of the commission, although I have had good reason to criticize their work, but I believe that the great bulk of the most important work in connexion with the building of Canberra was done before the commission was appointed. Everything was in train when it assumed office, and I regard it as an expensive excrescence. The expert officers in the Works and Railways Department could have discharged the duties that have been delegated to the commission. They are, in fact; the very men who are carrying out most of the work to-day. Had the work of constructing this city remained under departmental control Parliament would have been kept more closely in touch with it. Invariably, a person appointed to a high-salaried position gathers about him a large number of assistants until he gradually establishes a department; thus expense is increased. Undoubtedly, there has been unnecessary duplication of staffs in connexion with the development of Canberra, and between the employees of the commission and of the Department of Works and Railways grave mistakes have been made. In the criticism he offered to-day, the honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) spoke from a position of vantage as a member of the Public Accounts Committee. Unfortunately, a good deal of the work of that body is of a post-mortem character, but the investigations and reports of it and the Public Works Committee have saved to the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds in connexion with the building of Canberra alone. If some people had been allowed to have their sweet will, the Commonwealth would have been mulcted in considerably greater expense; these committees rejected from time to time proposals that were altogether too luxurious and expensive for our small population. As members of Parliament we have a duty to the people, and I hope that, without taking undue advantage of our privileged position, we shall not cease to criticize when faults come to our notice. Whilst an officer of the commission or a department may not appear personally on the floor of the House to answer criticism, he can always make his defence through his ministerial head, for he would be a poor minister who would not be prepared to state the views of his officers in order that Parliament might arrive at a just decision. I do not feel inclined to vote for this proposal to alter the constitution of the commission. If I had the opportunity to do so, I would vote for the abolition of that body. The complete plan of the city is on paper, the foundational works have been completed, and all that is required is good supervision of the gradual development of the plan. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) referred to the timber used in Parliament House and other, buildings. 1 I am glad that years ago a minister had sufficient foresight, to buy timber and store it at Canberra so that it would be well seasoned by the time it was needed. I give praise to the architects who designed Parliament House, but even the greatest architect is helpless without the support of efficient workmen. The workmanship in this building is excellent, but things are happening in the Territory in regard to which no public man can remain silent. It is a well-known ' fact that in the commission's stores is material that will not be used for many years, if at all. If we allow such waste to continue, what ' is the use of criticizing the Treasurer for extravagance? Some people accuse us of always complaining about details, but the sum of small items may be considerable. None of us is without faults and shortcomings, but sometimes when we criticize efficient workmen in regard to the quantity and quality of their labour, I wonder what they say of the quantity and quality of our work as legislators. In all construction works, whether carried out by contract or by day labour, the prime essential is efficient supervision, and I am afraid that in regard to some of the most important constructions in Canberra things will be disclosed in the near future that will not reflect credit on the supervisors. Although I admit that the majority of honorable members desired that the Seat of Government should be transferred from Melbourne to Canberra as early as possible, I do not think that even the most enthusiastic Canberraite anticipated that the Government would rush up here in such an awful hurry. For that no excuse can be offered; the Government knew the progress of the preparatory works here, and must accept full responsibility. I am confident that if a month after our first meeting here honorable members had had the opportunity to vote on the subject, an overwhelming majority of them would have declared in favour of this Parliament continuing in Melbourne until this city was at a more advanced stage. Had we done that, a great deal of expenditure would have been saved. I may be told that the transfer had to coincide with the visit of the Duke of York. I do not know whether the Royal visit could have been postponed ; .but, in any case, a delay of the transfer would have been to the advantage of the Aus: tralian taxpayer. I am opposed to com: mission management of the Territory. There should be no intermediary between the Minister and this Parliament; but.unfortunately, it has been the policy of the Government to appoint commission after commission, with resultant loss to the taxpayers. . For the big salaries; we . pay we should get good results; but I am . not satisfied . with the manner in which affairs in Canberra have 'been managed. ' - The Government having promised that within twelve months the new Parliament will have an opportunity to review the system of control in .' the Federal Capital Territory, this bill will no doubt be carried. But. I hope that the next Parliament, with greater wisdom than the present, will abolish the commission and re-vest control of the Territory in the departments which did such excellent work in laying the foundations of the National Capital.







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